SALISBURY — A special investigator charged with reviewing allegations of misconduct by Salisbury officer Mark Thomas is recommending his immediate discharge from the force.
Thomas will now face a disciplinary hearing Oct. 11 before Town Manager Neil Harrington and possible termination as a result of the allegations outlined in Robert St. Pierre's 115-page report on his internal investigation of the officer.
Thomas, who has been on paid administrative leave since May 24, faces allegations 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.
St. Pierre, the former Salem police chief hired to conduct the investigation, says in his report that Thomas' actions and violation of rules have disqualified him from holding a police position.
"(Thomas) has undermined the public trust and, by doing so, has discredited himself and the police service," St. Pierre says in the recommendation portion of his report. "Therefore, I recommend his discharge forthwith."
St. Pierre's recommendations are included in his 115-page report, accompanied by 57 pages of appendices of supporting documentation, outlining his six-month investigation into Thomas. The report, which was released to The Daily News under a Massachusetts Public Records Law request, includes an executive summary, plus the details of St. Pierre's interviews.
Throughout St. Pierre's report, Thomas's truthfulness and honesty are questioned. Should Thomas be found at fault at his hearing, it is not only his career as a police office that's at stake. According to the report, his veracity as a witness in Salisbury cases may be called into question. That could affect past and current prosecutions undertaken by the Essex County district attorney's office and convictions by the courts in which defendants were or could be found guilty of crimes based on Thomas' testimony as a police officer.
Thomas has been a permanent full-time officer with the department since November 1997. His roots with the department, however, date to September 1987, when he was appointed a reserve intermittent police officer.
The review of Thomas was prompted by information that initially came to light after St. Pierre was first called by Harrington to investigate former police Chief David L'Esperance's four-year tenure with the Salisbury department.
L'Esperance was accused of criminal activity and relieved of duty in early December 2010 based on allegations made by individuals with criminal histories that he had traded drugs and favors for sex. L'Esperance retired from police work in January, in the midst of St. Pierre's first investigation, effectively resigning his position as chief.
St. Pierre's investigation into Thomas, which extended from March to the end of August, was requested by Salisbury selectmen in February after Thomas' conduct became a concern based on the investigator's report on L'Esperance. The allegations raised against Thomas at the time came from his fellow officers.
According to St. Pierre, as a "special investigator" for Salisbury, he was "not empowered to conduct a criminal investigation," but instead conducted an internal review of Thomas' actions as they related to allegations he violated Salisbury Police Department's rules and regulations.
St. Pierre says in his report he has "come to the conclusion as to the substance of the original allegations" and "uncovered other areas of concern."
In his recommendation, he says, "All of the findings are serious, and together I believe they constitute sufficient grounds to recommend officer Thomas' discharge.
"However, officer Thomas' failure to adhere to a high standard of honesty and integrity, required of all police officers, alone is terminal and necessitates his removal from law enforcement," St. Pierre says.
"... A police officer who falsifies a police report of any kind, or any other official document, indicates that he cannot be relied on to tell the truth. By his actions, officer Thomas has become an ineffective witness and his credibility to represent the public interest in court has been destroyed. His continued presence as a Salisbury police officer will promote unrest and impugn the integrity of the department."
According to Harrington, the report does not point to Thomas breaking criminal laws, but rather indicates he may have broken the adopted written rules by which the Salisbury Police Department runs to ensure the public trust and maintain good discipline.
Harrington said St. Pierre interviewed members of the police department, including Thomas, often more than once, during his investigation.
The town manager placed Thomas on paid administrative leave two months into the investigation. Thomas was interviewed on four separate occasions during the probe, each time represented by his attorneys, Harrington said.
With a disciplinary hearing less than two weeks away, Harrington wouldn't comment on the specifics of the report.
"I don't want to characterize the findings at this point," he said.
Harrington said he believes the report to be thorough, pointing to the back-up documentation St. Pierre supplied.
"Several documents referenced in the report were not found in the town files," Harrington said. "They were found due to Robert St. Pierre's diligence."
Some documents were provided from the archives of Kopelman and Paige, Salisbury's attorneys of record, and some from former Salisbury police Chief Larry Streeter.
"Larry Streeter kept a record of everything," Harrington said.
Thomas will have an opportunity to defend himself at his disciplinary hearing, which will most likely be closed. Should fault be found, Harrington said disciplinary action could include any and all options, from suspension without pay, up to and including termination.
However, St. Pierre does not mince words. His recommendation is that Thomas be fired immediately.