NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

July 2, 2013

Police report states building inspector's behavior nearly ended in arrest

By Dave Rogers
Staff Writer

---- — SALISBURY — The town’s building inspector, David Lovering, came close to being arrested by police last month following a loud verbal altercation with a patrol officer responding to a report of doors left wide open at a Pike Street residence.

The expletive-laden report of Salisbury police officer Mark Thomas details an intense verbal confrontation. Thomas described it as a borderline criminal disorderly conduct charge as Lovering repeatedly yelled and swore at the veteran officer, drawing the attention of passers-by. Witnessing the lengthy exchange was Salisbury firefighter Ken Trofatter, who had picked up Lovering in a firefighter cruiser and parked inside the driveway of the Pike Street residence.

According to Thomas’ report, on the afternoon of June 4, the Salisbury Fire Department received a call from a Pike Street resident stating that the front door of the adjacent house was open. Trofatter secured the house prior to Thomas’ arrival and told him what he had done. Trofatter asked Thomas if he wanted to search the house just to be sure, but Thomas said he had no legal right to do so, according to Thomas’ report.

Thomas stated his refusal to search the house didn’t sit well with Lovering, who wanted the house searched. When Thomas told Lovering that his hands were tied legally, Lovering, in an angry and excited voice, said: “I have never called an officer and had them refuse to go in a house for me.”

Lovering did not return phone calls seeking comment on the complaint or why he wanted access to the house.

But Town Manager Neil Harrington said in a discussion he had with Lovering regarding the incident, he told Harrington that he was concerned by the open door, saying children may have been in the house and at risk.

Thomas again tried to explain the town’s legal liability should he enter a private dwelling without authority, but that did not quell Lovering’s rising anger, his report states. When Thomas asked Lovering why he felt it necessary to enter the house, the building inspector told him to “Get the (expletive) out of here.” Lovering then raised his right fist with his thumb sticking out and made a gesture to the same effect. “I knew I wouldn’t get anything from you,” Lovering added, according to Thomas’ report.

Thomas’ report continues to paint an unflattering picture of the building inspector, who ordered Trofatter to drive him away from the scene in a tone that Thomas said reminded him of an adult reprimanding a child. In a low, calming voice, Thomas said he tried to explain the situation with Lovering, but again did little good. Lovering then walked toward the fire cruiser and got inside the passenger’s side, his face red with anger, Thomas reported.

Again, Thomas asked Trofatter whether there was any legal reason why they should enter the house; Trofatter said there wasn’t. Just to be sure, the two men walked around the house and during that inspection noticed the back door was ajar. Thomas closed and secured the door before returning to the driveway. As they walked, Thomas confided in Trofatter that he couldn’t understand why Lovering became so upset. Trofatter eventually entered his vehicle, but before Thomas reached his cruiser, Lovering abruptly got out of the car and said in a yelling voice: “Let me get this straight. You said I should put it down as the first time, when I said that I had never had an officer deny me going to a house.”

Thomas stated he began to reply but before he had a chance to respond fully, Lovering cut him off and ordered him to leave. Lovering’s voice grew in volume and intensity to the point where people were gathering to watch the unfolding spectacle. Motorists also slowed down to get a better look at what was transpiring. Thomas reported that Lovering placed his cellphone toward his leg as if he just gotten off the phone and yelled at Thomas: “Answer your (expletive) phone, your friggin chief is calling you.”

“It should be noted that Building Inspector David Lovering was borderline criminal, disorderly conduct,” Thomas wrote in his report.

Later on, Thomas visited the fire station and asked Trofatter why was Lovering was so unprofessional and borderline criminal.

“I honestly don’t know why he was like that,” Trofatter replied, according to Thomas’ report.

Thomas said he felt repulsed by Lovering’s unprofessional and unprovoked actions toward two town officials and reported the incident to police Chief Thomas Fowler to further document the confrontation. Thomas also wrote that Trofatter would be writing his own report on the incident.

Last week, Fowler said his department would not be investigating the matter further as it didn’t rise to a criminal offense. Yesterday, Fowler declined to comment on Thomas’ report or the incident in general.

Thomas’ report highlights another instance where Lovering has been criticized for his job performance. Last October, Lovering was admonished by several people including Sylvan Street Grille and Vision Max Theaters owner Bruce Arakelian during a Board of Selectmen meeting. A technicality over incomplete sprinkler system installations at the two businesses caused town officials to post one Salisbury firefighter at each of the businesses as a fire watch from Sept. 7 to Oct. 1, at a cost to taxpayers of about $27,000.

Removed after another solution to the snafu was found, the fire watch has raised the hackles of a number of people in town, especially those who see it as being caused by Lovering, who discovered the problem.

Arakelian blamed Lovering for creating the scenario that led to the fire watch, saying that Lovering uses the building code “as a weapon, not a tool.”

Succeeding Ken Surette, Lovering has been the town’s building inspector for about three years, coming over from Rowley where he served in the same capacity. During that time, Lovering has established a reputation as being very strict with municipal building codes, to the displeasure of some local contractors accustomed to a softer interpretation of codes espoused by his predecessors, according to Harrington.

Harrington, who declined to comment on the specifics of the incident, said Thomas’ report marks the first time that a town employee has lodged a complaint against Lovering’s professionalism. However, Harrington said some people have expressed concerns relative to his approach and demeanor but never his professional expertise.

“He came highly recommended and he’s done a good job,” Harrington said, adding that there are contractors who would like to see Lovering employed elsewhere.