By Angeljean Chiaramida STAFF WRITER
Newburyport Daily News
---- — SALISBURY -- An independent arbitrator ruled yesterday that the town had no justification to fire former police officer Mark Thomas, adding he should get his job back and be paid for lost salary since his firing.
The news came from Thomas’ attorney, Kenneth Anderson, that the long-awaited ruling in Thomas’ appeal against the town had been handed down by arbitrator Richard Boulanger.
“The arbitrator ordered that Mark be reinstated forthwith and that he be made whole by the town for any lost wages,” Anderson wrote in his e-mail to The Daily News. “We fully expected this outcome from the outset and it is a shame that the town of Salisbury pursued this case so vigorously when there were no facts to support the allegations.”
Harrington could not be reached for comment.
Last night, Thomas said he was relieved by the 36-page finding.
“I first would like to thank the many people who stood by me through this arduous ordeal, and who easily saw through the personal agenda of those involved,” Thomas said. “My family and I are glad this is finally over. The damaged caused to me personally and to my reputation is immeasurable. We all knew that when a neutral person heard the facts and the truth was allowed to be heard that justice would prevail, as is proof in the arbitrator’s written binding decision. I am look forward to returning to my career as a police officer in my home town.”
Allegations against Thomas, 46, arose in January 2011, during an investigation into former Salisbury police chief David L’Esperance, who, in December 2010, had been accused of taking part in criminal behavior. Thomas, a lawyer and detective at the time, was a 24-year veteran of the Salisbury police department. He was accused during the L’Esperance investigation by his fellow officers of a number of issues, including studying for the bar exam while on duty.
Because of the allegations that came to light against Thomas, Salisbury Town Manager Neil Harrington launched a second investigation into Thomas’ behavior. This investigation, as the first, was conducted by former Salem police chief Robert St. Pierre, who was hired by Harrington.
The 115-page Thomas report was released in September, 2011, and came with a recommendation from St. Pierre that Thomas be immediately discharged. Thomas faces allegations by his fellow officers of interfering with justice by trying to influence a police investigation, complicity in the falsification of his career records in an application to the FBI National Academy, failure to properly report violations committed by other officers to his superiors and studying for the bar exam while on duty.
Thomas’ disciplinary hearing began on Dec. 15, when Daniel Kulack, special counsel to the town, presented the charges against Thomas, which, Harrington said, were basically those in St. Pierre’s report. Thomas was notified of his termination after his disciplinary hearing closed on Feb. 3, and Harrington made his decision. Thomas was fired for being found “culpable” of two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer: specifically, failure to devote full attention to duty by studying for the bar exam while on duty, and a lack of truthfulness, for falsifying his career record on his application for admittance to the FBI National Academy.
Thomas filed an appeal through the New England Benevolent Police Association patrolmen’s union shortly after he was terminated. The appeal was based on a portion of the town’s contract with Salisbury’s police union citing he was subject to termination without just cause. The appeal hearings began in late June and finished up in mid-July before Boulanger, with Anderson calling witnesses, including L’Esperance, who yesterday said he was pleased with the arbitrator’s decision.
“I am very happy for detective Thomas and his family that an independent, detached, and neutral person saw what that what the town did was egregious,” L’Esperance said. “There was no basis for Mark’s firing.
“Much like my case, I think that there are some officers in the Salisbury Police Department -- some, not all -- who are very deceitful and hateful, and who made their case against Mark. I think they were jealous of him. The people of Salisbury will pay the price of this incident; Mark clearly has course of action against the town on top of what he’s owed in back salary.”
L’Esperance went on to say that the investigation undertaken by St. Pierre was “shoddy,” and based on a predetermined investigative theory of guilt, based on comments made by Salisbury officers and some untrustworthy witnesses who had ulterior motives in making their claims. L’Esperaance said he hasn’t spoken up before this because he had to wait for the theft charges lodged by the Salisbury Police Department against him to be finalized, and for fear of harming Thomas’ case.
L’Esperance was found not guilty on all theft charges brought against him earlier this year, and no formal charges were ever brought against him in the allegations of misconduct that led to his fall from grace in 2010.
“I am fully prepared to go pubic soon with my own version of what really happened,” L’Esperance said.