Suspended Waltham police chief faces questions after conviction

Suspended police Chief Thomas LaCroix was stripped from the Waltham city payroll as a consequence of being convicted last week of twice assaulting his wife in their Maynard home last year.

LaCroix faces sentencing next Wednesday, as well as questions on his continued employment with the city and whether the convictions will affect his pension.

Mayor Jeanette McCarthy said Monday that LaCroix was no longer being paid by the city but still is on administrative leave, following his conviction in Concord District Court on two counts of assault and battery.

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LaCroix had been on paid leave from his chief’s job since his arrest by Maynard police on June 14 2012. He collected $182,358 in salary and other benefits last year, including a $16,814 longevity bonus he received after he was arrested, according to city payroll records.

Waltham’s city charter allows the mayor to remove the police chief from office, but requires the mayor to send to the chief a letter stating why. The chief can request a City Council hearing to appeal the decision and request to have a lawyer represent him.

McCarthy would not comment on LaCroix’s job status.

“Now that the criminal and constitutional issues have been addressed by the Middlesex district attorney’s office and the jury, I will proceed with the administrative end of this,” McCarthy said. “It would be inappropriate for me to make any further comment at this time.”

She has previously said that the city must conduct its own investigation to determine whether LaCroix should be fired, and that such an investigation would not start until a verdict was reached in the case.

LaCroix did not return phone calls Monday seeking comment.

The Waltham Police Department is being run by Acting Chief Keith MacPherson.

A jury last week convicted LaCroix on charges that he assaulted his wife twice on June 12, 2012, once when he picked her up and threw her in the couple’s garage and another time that left her with a bloody, swollen lip.

He was acquitted of charges that he assaulted his wife by slamming her head on a kitchen countertop, that he attacked his wife’s friend Shannon Policano, and that he threatened to kill both if they went to police.

The convictions came even though his wife, Andrea, testified that LaCroix never assaulted her.

However, Policano testified that she saw LaCroix assault his wife in the garage. She and two of Andrea LaCroix’s coworkers said Andrea had told them that her husband had assaulted her. They also said they saw injuries on Andrea.

Laura Van Zandt, executive director of REACH Beyond Domestic Violence in Waltham, refused to discuss the LaCroix case specifically. However, she said some domestic violence cases do not go to trial because the alleged victim and the alleged attacker say they will work the issues out. They choose a path called “accord and satisfaction,” Van Zandt said.

“We see a lot of situations where people are asked to testify, or even when police show up and there is evidence of injury, and it’s actually common for someone to say, ‘No, nothing happened,’ ” Van Zandt said. “They’ll tell the judge, ‘No, we figured this out ourselves,’ and the judge can dismiss the case, even if the district attorney’s office doesn’t want it dismissed.”

However, Van Zandt said a bill is pending in the Legislature that would do away with the court unsatisfaction rule in domestic violence cases, by considering a power imbalance between the two parties.

“It’s possible for the abuser to threaten the victim with violence to go forward [with a request to dismiss the case], and that can actually create the agreement,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the Middlesex district attorney’s office, Stephanie Chelf Guyotte, said the accord and satisfaction approach can’t be taken if the charges are felonies.

LaCroix faced both felony and misdemeanor charges. He was acquitted of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and intimidation of a witness, which are felonies, and convicted on the misdemeanor charges of assault and battery.

In a statement following LaCroix’s conviction, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said the case shows “that tragically, anyone can be the victim of domestic violence, even at the hands of someone who has worked to protect and serve the public.

“We urge anyone who is the victim of domestic violence to seek help, support, and utilize all of the resources available to them. No one should ever feel threatened in their home or be afraid to confront their abuser because he or she is in a powerful position.”

When he goes before Judge J. Elizabeth Cremens for sentencing, LaCroix faces a possible maximum sentence of 2½ years in jail on each count. But defense attorney Thomas Dreschler said he will ask for probation and expects the district attorney’s office will go along with the request. The district attorney’s office said they could not speculate on sentencing.

LaCroix, who is 50 years old, has worked for the Waltham Police Department for 26 years, receiving the appointment to chief in 2007. His pension would generally depend on his age, length of service, and salary, but the criminal case could add another element.

Neither McCarthy nor Waltham Retirement Board administrator Joseph Juppé would comment on whether the city would seek to take away or reduce LaCroix’s pension. Juppe said he could not answer any questions about general pension policies or procedures.

Boston-based attorney Walter Foster, who specializes in public pension law, said city officials could make a “strong argument” that LaCroix should forfeit some or all of his pension.

Foster said the state allows a pension to be taken away if a person has been convicted of a crime related to his or her office.

“I know there are similar cases where arguments have been made for forfeiture because police officers are sworn to uphold the law, and people say, ‘Here you are, breaking it,’ ” Foster said.