The Middlesex district attorney’s office retrieved a bag of shredded documents from the Ashland Police Department last weekend, the latest in a series of legal tangles that reveal an agency divided by infighting.
Four Ashland police officers have filed legal complaints in recent months against Police Chief Scott Rohmer, the town, and other officers.
Anthony Schiavi, a retiring US Air Force colonel who was sworn in as Ashland’s town manager Wednesday, is to meet with the Police Department on Monday morning. He said he will be meeting with all town departments, starting with the police, but he would not comment on the agenda.
Two of the complaints were filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, each by a female officer alleging gender discrimination and describing the department as an abusive and sexually hostile workplace.
The third complaint was filed jointly by Sergeant Robert MacQuarrie and Lieutenant Richard Briggs in Norfolk Superior Court in September. They allege Rohmer retaliated against them after they signed a complaint against the chief. Other allegations against Rohmer in their lawsuit include unethical spending of town money, covering up for a friend accused of a hate crime, and misusing department resources to investigate his own wife.
Rohmer’s lawyer, Doug Louison, who also represents Acting Sergeant Edward Pomponio, another defendant in the three legal actions, said they deny any significant wrongdoing.
“They deny misconduct that is of any substance,” he said.
Louison called the confiscation of the shredded papers absurd, and said the accusation of impropriety is “indicative of the dysfunction” on the force.
“There was absolutely, positively no document shredding going on of any evidence,” he said. “The chief on my behest was gathering some documents to provide to my office.”
The Police Department has one shredder, and it is routinely used for disposing of documents that contain private information, Louison said.
Timothy M. Burke, a lawyer representing the four officers who filed complaints, said there were some public-records requests made recently, and he believes the shredding was improper. He said he does not know who reported the incident to the DA’s office.
“There is obviously some concern shown by members of the Police Department who realize that documents were being shredded and should not have been shredded,” he said.
The Middlesex district attorney’s office does not confirm investigations. But spokeswoman MaryBeth Long acknowledged the office received a report March 22 about document shredding, and State Police detectives retrieved a bag of shredded documents from the Ashland police station.
“There’s an assessment ongoing of the circumstances of the shredding,” she said.
Many if not all of the allegations in the three legal actions were contained in a January 2012 written complaint signed by 10 police officers and given to then-town manager John Petrin, who has since left the job.
In February 2012, Petrin hired Edward C. Doocey, a Quincy lawyer, to investigate what amounted to at least 140 allegations against the chief and three other officers, according to Doocey’s report dated last June. Doocey, who focused his investigation on Rohmer, reported that although Rohmer had not broken any laws, he had violated Ashland Police Department rules. Doocey did not investigate the allegations concerning sexual harassment.
The most significant finding in the report was that Rohmer had directed an Ashland officer to conduct a forensic search of his wife’s laptop computer and cellphone. Doocey rejected Rohmer’s claim that he had his wife’s permission to conduct the search, and asked for the officer’s help because he did not have her passwords.
Doocey, who interviewed 41 people for his report, including all uniformed and civilian members of the department, wrote that he found no evidence to support most of the allegations, including that Rohmer had covered up a hate crime committed by a friend. The person in question was charged with a hate crime, and reached a plea agreement, according to Doocey’s finding.
Doocey said there was no evidence that Rohmer had misappropriated department funds, although he did call the purchase of $13,000 worth of insignia jackets, some of which Rohmer acknowledged giving to family and friends, an “ill-conceived expenditure.”
Still, the report describes a department in turmoil. All of the officers, with one exception, described morale on the police force as “at an all-time low.”Continued...