, Newburyport, MA

July 8, 2013

New reports emerge in town officials' confrontation


---- — SALISBURY — Two more versions of an angry verbal exchange between police officer Mark Thomas and Building Inspector David Lovering have surfaced, giving another perspective that is less inflammatory than a recently released police report.

Thomas and Lovering got into a verbal altercation on June 6 in which Thomas reported that Lovering was confrontational, using angry language and gestures when Thomas refused to enter and check an uninhabited Pike Street residence, as Lovering had requested. Thomas’ report details an expletive-laden, intense verbal argument with Lovering, which Thomas described as borderline criminal disorderly conduct. Although no charges were lodged against Lovering, Thomas’ report indicates he repeatedly yelled and swore at the officer to such an extent it drew the attention of passers-by.

But two other written reports exist, one by Lovering, and the other by firefighter Ken Troffater, who was the third party at the scene. Both indicate a disagreement, but without the extreme volatility present in Thomas’ report, and without Lovering’s repeated cursing.

Trofatter is the one who originally received a report of the “possibly unsafe condition” of a Pike Street home, according to his report. He called Lovering about it, and picked up the building inspector in his Fire Department cruiser so they could investigate the home together. Thomas was later called to the home as well.

Although Thomas’ report records anger and confrontation, as well as Lovering using foul language, the other two reports are less incendiary, and record little use of expletives.

Town Manager Neil Harrington read each of the three reports, and spoke with Trofatter and Lovering, but not Thomas, who discussed the situation with police Chief Tom Fowler. Fowler told Harrington Thomas stands by his report.

After his investigation, Harrington believes Trofatter’s report is “pretty much right down the middle.” Harrington said he asked Lovering about swearing, which Lovering denied, and which Trofatter doesn’t include much of in his report.

According to Trofatter’s report, after picking up Lovering, they arrived at the Pike Street home, finding a door on the west side of the building unlocked. Lovering opened the door, entered, announcing himself and commenting on the foul order in the building, Trofatter wrote. Lovering then suggested securing the door, which Trofatter agreed to, and Lovering closed and locked it.

Both men walked around the home and found another door unlocked in the rear, according to Trofatter. Entering, Lovering called Trofatter over to see what was found.

“I observed what appeared to be two cages constructed out of used pallets and poor housekeeping in the basement area of the building,” Trofatter wrote. “At the time I suggested to the building inspector we call the Salisbury Police Dept. for assistance.”

When Thomas arrived at the scene, Trofatter wrote that a conversation took place between the three men as he and Lovering told Thomas what they’d found. Thomas asked if there were any violations that would deem it necessary to enter the building, Trofatter wrote.

“Officer Thomas stated, ‘in the best interest of the town, I can’t just walk through somebody’s house,” Trofatter wrote.

Trofatter’s report documents that Lovering replied: “this is the first time a police officer has refused to walk through a house for the building department.” To which Thomas responded to Lovering: “you can mark this down as the first.”

Lovering became agitated, Trofatter wrote, refusing to answer any questions Thomas tried to pose. Getting back in Trofatter’s vehicle, Lovering told him: “get me out of here, bring me back.”

Trofatter inspected the building with Thomas, who suggested they secure the rear door, which they did, Trofatter wrote.

In an angry tone, Lovering again told Trofatter he wanted to leave, adding “I have (expletive) to do.” But before they left, Lovering got out of the vehicle, and “confronted” Thomas to confirm the date and time in which Thomas decided not to walk through the building, Trofatter wrote.

After that, Trofatter got in the car and the two “left the scene without further incident.”

In his report, Lovering explains why he wanted Thomas to enter the building after finding doors unlocked and the place smelling overwhelmingly of urine and feces.

“My concerns at the time were that a child or other person(s) could be in the building and if we locked the door, they could become disorientated and trapped in the building,” Lovering wrote. “I also considered the possibility that someone could be held or injured in the building.”

Thomas, an attorney, expressing the legal issues he saw. Lovering wrote that Thomas acted as a “devil’s advocate,” worrying if police entered they could be accused of “illegally entering the building.”

“Thomas asked what the crime was and why he should enter the building. He said that looking at it from a legal point of view, if there was no crime he couldn’t enter the building,” Lovering wrote in his report.

Lovering told Thomas of his concerns that someone could be in the building, but Thomas still refused to enter.

“I told Officer Thomas that this was the first time a police officer had refused to help the Building Department and he told me: ‘Well mark the day because today is the day that we aren’t going to help you.”

Lovering wrote that with the exception of this encounter, he has “always been treated with respect and kindness by the (Salisbury Police Department),” adding that he believed Thomas was “. . . operating from the standpoint of an attorney not that of (a) police officer who was called for assistance by the (t)own of Salisbury.”

In his report, Lovering wrote that he spoke with Chief Fowler, giving him his side of the story. Lovering wrote that Fowler agreed the police department “should enter the building,” and Lovering asked Fowler to call Thomas.

According to Lovering, Fowler told him that “he would be advising Officer Thomas to call a supervisor should he disagree with any of my requests in the future.” The Daily News was unable to get in touch with Fowler to confirm these statements.

After investigating the situation, Harrington call the situation “a case of he said, he said.” But added it’s part of a bigger issue revolving around the building inspector, and a “handful of people who are trying to run him out of town.”

Harrington is referring to a group of building contractors and former employees of the building department who Harrington fired after Lovering came on board.

“In the end, this isn’t about this one incident,” Harrington said. “It’s about (Lovering’s) role as building inspector and the fact that he takes a much tougher approach to his job than several of his predecessors did. And that (Lovering’s) clearly rubbed some people the wrong way.”

Daily News Staff Writer David Rogers contributed to this report.