By David Rogers
NEWBURY — An eight-year veteran of the Newbury Police Department was placed on paid administrative leave earlier this month about the same time he was replaced as the department's school resource officer at Triton Regional Middle/High School.
Officer Stephen May Jr., who joined the force in 2003, had been the school resource officer for more than a year before the decision was made to replace him.
Taking his place is Newbury police officer John Lucey III, son of Newbury police Lt. John Lucey Jr. John Lucey III's first day as school resource officer was Dec. 20.
May, 27, will remain on the sidelines pending the completion of an internal investigation, according to Newbury police Chief Michael Reilly, who added that the investigation should be completed in the next few weeks.
Reilly called the investigation a strictly internal matter and said the Essex County District Attorney's office was not involved.
May receives an hourly salary of $24.31, which amounts to roughly $972 a week.
Reilly wouldn't comment on what led him to take punitive action against one of his officers, but he said it was somewhat related to his performance as Triton's school resource officer.
"Yes and no, it's intertwined with the other thing," Reilly said.
But Reilly stressed that the decision to replace May as student resource officer had nothing to do with his conduct with students.
"Parents shouldn't be horrified," Reilly said. "The school felt a change in the SRO position was warranted, as did I," Reilly said.
Reilly added that this is the first time May has been the subject of an internal investigation.
"We've had no issues with him before," Reilly said.
After placing May on paid administrative leave, Reilly said he informed Town Administrator Tracy Blais and the town's attorney. Blais then reported the decision to the Board of Selectmen.
Triton Regional Middle/High School Assistant Superintendent Brian Forget didn't immediately return a phone call in time for this edition. But in an earlier email, Forget called the reasons for switching student resource officers "a personnel and private nature."
Lucey III was one of three Newbury police officers who expressed interest in the position. All three were interviewed by Reilly and then by school officials.
"The interviews involved the principals and assistant principals from the middle and high schools and myself. While we agree that all candidates would have made fine resource officers, we made the final choice based upon how we saw the officer working within our buildings and the Triton community. The chief left the final decision entirely to us," Forget said in his email.
The action against May is one in a series of personnel moves that has changed the fabric of the small community police department over the last year.
This May, longtime police Sgt. Lawrence Kent was fired by the Board of Selectmen after an internal investigation conducted by Reilly determined that Kent had violated numerous department policies when he allegedly punched a helpless suspect in the head several times and then lied about the incident in his report. As a result, Kent was formally charged with assault and battery and falsifying a police report. The commonwealth's case against Kent continues.
Last month, Reilly was forced to shave nearly 20 percent off his budget, resulting in the elimination of the department's full-time dispatcher position and leading to the layoff of longtime dispatcher Jeanne McClung.
In another money-saving measure, all part-time dispatchers were taken off the department's schedule and will be used only to plug holes in the schedule when patrol officers aren't available to man the desk.
Counting Reilly and Lucey Jr., the department has 11 full-time officers, including two sergeants and a detective. With May's absence, the already-thin department will be even leaner, forcing Reilly to make additional adjustments to the duty roster.