, Newburyport, MA

September 5, 2013

Suspended cops sue Civil Service for backing city

Officers were punished for handling of ex-state trooper crash

By Shawn Regan
Staff writer

---- — HAVERHILL — Two city police officers suspended last year for their handling of a crash involving a retired state trooper are suing the state Civil Service Commission for upholding the city’s decision to punish them.

Last month, the commission rejected a second request by Lt. William Leeman and patrolman Christopher Pagliuca to have their suspensions reversed, after they were found to have given preferential treatment at an accident scene to Charles Noyes, a retired state police lieutenant colonel.

Noyes crashed his Cadillac Escalade in West Newbury on March 30, 2012, then kept driving with his air bags deployed until police found him in the travel lane just over the Haverhill line. The crash snapped a utility pole on Route 113 in West Newbury, cutting power to the surrounding area for almost 11 hours. Several police officers and medics at the scene testified they believed Noyes to be intoxicated, but Noyes was not charged with drunken driving and he was not arrested.

Leeman and Pagliuca were suspended without pay for 10 and five days, respectively, for violating police rules and ethical standards, as well as unsatisfactory performance.

Police Chief Alan DeNaro made the initial disciplinary recommendation, which was subsequently supported by an outside hearing officer and ultimately by Mayor James Fiorentini.

Leeman and Pagliuca are asking the court to overturn their suspensions, order the city to pay all their court and attorney costs, and restore all benefits and financial compensation the officers lost as a result of their suspensions.

The suit does not provide a specific basis for the appeal, other than alleging the commission’s decision to back the city’s decision was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, unsupported by substantial evidence and inconsistent with governing law.”

City Solicitor William Cox said the complaint, which also names the city of Haverhill, will be heard in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston.

The officers’ union lawyers, Stephen Pfaff and and Joseph Padolsky, have not returned phone calls seeking comment on the case.

An internal Haverhill police investigation concluded that Noyes was given special treatment by West Newbury and Haverhill officers due to his previous state police position, and that officers acted to cover up their actions in investigating the incident. The probe specifically faulted the officers for not charging Noyes with drunken driving and not arresting him at the scene.

Noyes eventually was sentenced in Newburyport District Court to six months of unsupervised probation after admitting there were sufficient facts to find him guilty of negligent driving and leaving the scene of an accident that caused property damage — a charge filed by West Newbury police.

The chief argument by Leeman and Pagliuca in fighting their suspensions is that they believed West Newbury Sgt. Daniel Cena, the first officer on the scene, was in charge and should have arrested Noyes and charged him with drunken driving. The Haverhill officers have asserted that Cena was the only officer who witnessed Noyes at the wheel of his vehicle, and thus the only officer able to prove Noyes was the operator, according to documents in the case.

DeNaro rejected that argument, however.

DeNaro “was concerned that the officers had not made an arrest at the scene, regardless of whether or not Cena should have made the arrest,” reads the city’s legal argument supporting the suspensions. “If we have a crime committed in the city of Haverhill and we have probable cause, regardless of the action or inaction of another officer from (another department) that doesn’t handle the calls we handle ... my officers with their vast knowledge and experience should have made the arrest,” the chief testified at a local discipline hearing for the officers, according to reports.

Leeman and Pagliuca were also cited for writing shoddy and incomplete reports.

“The (officer’s) report also does not include any mention of the HPD’s concerns regarding jurisdiction and how the decision was made that HPD was not going to charge Noyes with OUI,” the city’s legal brief in the case reads. “This, coupled with the glaring absence of any mention of the evidence at the scene that would have supported probable cause to make an arrest, makes the report appear as though the officers tried to cover up their decision to give a pass to a retired lieutenant colonel of the state police on an OUI charge.

“At the very least, the report reads like these officers knew they had not adequately performed their duties, which they did not, and were trying to cover up that fact,” the city’s brief reads.