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Newton Police Chief Matthew Cummings removed from job for 'boorish' remarks

Posted by Leslie Anderson  August 29, 2012 07:54 PM

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Newton Police Chief Matthew Cummings was removed from his job Wednesday after an investigation found that he made “boorish, disrespectful, and insulting” remarks to female employees and that his behavior was offensive.

The city placed Cummings, 57, on paid administrative leave and has started proceedings to fire him, Mayor Setti Warren said at a press conference.

“This is not the conduct and behavior I expect, or the people of the city expect,” Warren said.

Captain Howard Mintz, who heads up the agency’s traffic division, has been named as the interim chief.

Cummings did not return phone calls for comment Wednesday.

According to the report, commissioned by the city, Cummings called his former secretary a “bitch” and told her “I think you look like a whore” in 2010. That year he also kicked the secretary, Jeanne Sweeney Mooney, in the foot, sending her shoe flying and causing a bloody cut on the back of her foot, according to the report.

The report also states that in the summer of 2011, he told a pregnant officer, “You’re almost as fat as I am,” and asked another female employee who had a tattoo, “How drunk were you when you got that?”

Cummings was not trying to be intimidating or malicious in his actions, the report states, but attempting to be funny. “However, his flippant remarks were clearly boorish, disrespectful, and insulting,” the report said.

In the kicking incident, the report said, Cummings was also trying to be funny and "he promptly apologized."

Warren said Cummings’s behavior was “unacceptable no matter what framework.”

Cummings, who earned $168,737 last year, is entitled to a hearing on the case under his contract, before the city can dismiss him. He was a captain in the department before being nominated chief by former mayor David Cohen in 2009.

Newton officials hired consultant Ed Mitnick in May to investigate Cummings after receiving a complaint letter from Mooney.

Mooney, a long-time city employee, is at the center of a separate criminal case relating to allegations that she took an envelope containing cash collected through various police permit fees, and destroyed nearly $1,500 in checks and a schedule of the payments.

Mooney, who has been on paid administrative leave from the city since late September, was charged last week with one count of larceny of over $250.

Mooney has denied the charge and accused the police department of pursuing a criminal case in retaliation for her complaints against Cummings.

Newton officials denied any retaliation on Wednesday.

In her May letter, Mooney demanded $600,000 from Newton for her pain and suffering stemming from the theft allegation, as well as a reinstatement of her job and the firing of Cummings. She also raised concerns about Cummings’s past behavior.

While the consultant’s report corroborated some of Mooney’s complaints against Cummings - such as the kicking incident and the chief’s inappropriate comments – it also dismissed other allegations.

The report states there is no evidence that Cummings had inappropriately applied for a longevity raise program and wrongly received an 8 percent increase, as Mooney had alleged.

Cummings was, “clearly eligible to participate in the program,” the report states.

Cummings also wasn’t involved in taking surveillance photos of Mooney, the report states. Mooney had complained in the May letter that Cummings tried to threaten her to do more work by producing a photo suggesting that she was the target of a local television station’s investigative report about what she was doing during her breaks. There was no such television station investigation.

Another police employee, Vincent Nguyen, admitted to taking the photos and said that he acted alone, according to the report. Newton hasn’t yet taken any action against Nguyen, said Donnalyn Kahn, the city solicitor.

The case is further complicated, because Nguyen is the key witness in the theft allegation against Mooney.

This case has shaken the police department for months.

The department’s morale has been affected, Mintz said, since employees have spent time discussing the allegations.

But the department will move forward, he said.

The city already provides employees with harassment training, but will provide more in the police department, Mintz said.

John Tocci, Mooney’s attorney, said his client still wants her job back and despite Cummings’s removal she still faces criminal charges.

“The city has a long way to go before it makes up for what it’s doing to Jeanne" Sweeney Mooney, Tocci said.

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com.

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