WEST NEWBURY — At a contentious meeting on Wednesday, selectmen unanimously rejected a request from Kristi Devine to conduct an independent investigation into alleged abuses by the West Newbury Police Department.
For the past 11 years, Devine, of 7 Montclair Road, has repeatedly claimed she has been treated in an unfair and retaliatory manner by police leadership during an ongoing property dispute between her and her neighbors, Jocelyn Mackey and Dale Waring, both of whom Devine said had a history of assault and battery known to police well before she moved to town in 2000.
The neighborhood feud has resulted in multiple arrests of Devine for assault and battery and intimidation of a witness and a state order barring her from her home for nine months.
She is "tired of sounding like a broken record" and knows that selectmen don't view her as credible. That is why she is calling for them to bring in an unbiased outsider to determine if what she is claiming has any validity.
In light of the recent charges of police misconduct made against David L'Esperance, who worked in West Newbury for more than 20 years prior to taking the police chief's job in Salisbury five years ago, Devine said town leaders have an obligation to look into complaints against him and others currently in the department, including police Chief Lisa Holmes.
L'Esperance retired from police work Jan. 18, effectively resigning from his job in Salisbury in the midst of an investigation into alleged criminal activities, including claims that he traded drugs for sex with women who themselves had criminal histories. In July he pleaded not guilty to multiple charges that he stole from crime scenes, but so far no charges related to the other claims have been filed.
Devine said both L'Esperance and Holmes falsely testified against her and that Holmes helped Devine's neighbors with the wording for statements about conflicts that occurred between them. Because Holmes, who was a sergeant at the time, has been his direct supervisor, she would know of any misconduct L'Esperance perpetrated while in West Newbury, Devine said.
"It's all been orchestrated by your police chief," she said, insisting other residents have told her of their own negative experiences with police. "There are people in fear of our police department. My God, is that anyway to run a town?"
Holmes, who was present at the meeting, did not speak.
But Selectman Dick Cushing said he has the utmost faith in her character, describing her as "a person of high integrity" and insisting that "an investigation of the police department is not warranted." The claims of one person don't drive an investigation. Specific reasons are needed, not just "rumors or innuendos," he said, adding, "just saying it doesn't make it true, Kristi."
Selectman Tom Atwood acknowledged that residents have contacted him in the past about problems with police, but they would not document their claims. "All I have is hearsay," said Atwood, "You need to have an event or issue that is clearly document able."
Holmes has said previously that Atwood assured her the complaints he referred to occurred prior to her tenure as chief. Selectman Chairman Albert Knowles Jr. said the courts, not an independent investigation, were the proper place to resolve Devine's conflicts with police.
Devine said her family has been "financially, emotionally and physically destroyed" by unfair treatment she said resulted in her being arrested falsely three times, landed her briefly in Framingham State Prison once and forced her into exile in Andover for a time. She goes back to court next month for allegedly repeatedly violating a restraining order taken out against her by Waring, a charge that could result in extended prison time.
The fact that the courts determined she was falsely arrested three times at the hands of L'Esperance who is now awaiting trial himself should raise a red flag, Devine said. But when she asked selectmen if they had read the report of the investigation ordered in Salisbury or viewed the video of the well-attended meeting in that town when selectmen discussed it, only Atwood said he had.
One of the more heated moments during the 90-minute discussion came when town counsel Michael McCarron read into the record from a 25-page copy of the results of a civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court in 2007. Devine was suing the town and several town officials, police and neighbors, claiming they conspired to deprive her and her family of their civil rights and selectively targeted them based on "a mistaken belief" that the Devines were Jewish.
The court concluded that Devine's suit failed "for a wide variety of reasons" but most of all because it "failed to put before the Court any specific, credible evidence supporting claims of conspiracy, false arrest, prosecutorial misconduct and discrimination."
Several times Devine interrupted McCarron as he read, insisting that the lawsuit, which covered events that happened as far back as three years prior to 2007, "is irrelevant to anything that's gone on since that time." More than once she was told by Knowles to be quiet and at one point Atwood called for her to be removed from the meeting.
When McCarron finished the lengthy reading, Devine again asked permission to speak. "That was a bushwhack of me and I think I'm entitled to respond," she said. The civil suit failed in part because she had attempted to represent herself legally and was clearly over her head in doing so, she said. But just because someone loses in court one time doesn't mean his or her accusations aren't true, she asserted.
Turning to McCarron she said, "I guess you have to make a fool of me to continue the status quo."
Before exiting the meeting room, Devine reiterated her call for an independent investigation, saying, "I challenge selectmen to prove me wrong."
The board approved a request from John Peterson to run his math tutoring sessions in the Parks and Recreation Building two times a week throughout the school year. Selectmen agreed to reduce by half the facility fee of $25 per day. Atwood abstained from the vote because Peterson is his daughter's math teacher at Page Elementary School.
The Winner's Circle Running Club got the OK from selectmen to hold a Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot in the Pipestave Hill/Mill Pond Recreation Area. The 5K race starts at 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 24. A maximum of 800 runners will participate and will include both competitive and casual runners as well as families. The course starts and finishes at the top of Pipestave Hill and runs counter-clockwise down to the Mill Pond area, then back through the hay field, up the hill and back down the other side. The nonprofit WCRC will donate a portion of the proceeds from the race to the West Newbury Historical Society. For more information, visit http://www.runthecircle.org
Atwood asked a listing of budget wages for fiscal year 2011-2012 be reformatted to better indicate instance where an employee received a merit bonus above the 2 percent salary increase all non-union employees received. He said that in order to "cover our bases," selectmen should be signing off on any exceptions to the standard salary increases. In one case, chief assessor Karen Rassias gave up some of her own pay increase in order to give a 5 percent raise to an employee in her department. Atwood commended Rassias; but following the meeting, he said that although the arrangement was cost-neutral to the taxpayer, given the current economic climate, he could not support any salary increase greater than 2 percent. He plans to discuss it further at the next board meeting on Sept. 21.
Selectmen plan to review a Public Works Mutual Aid law with DPW director Gary Bill. Knowles said he was concerned about possible liabilities to the town.
The board discussed briefly with the town counsel correspondence from the law firm Johnson & Borenstein of Andover pertaining to a 61A agricultural release for property off Sullivan Court and Whetstone Street.
Atwood got confirmation from Knowles that in the future all correspondence and emails addressed to the Board of Selectmen will be listed on the agenda.
The fire department is holding a 9/11 Commemoration at the Central Street Fire Station on Sunday at 9:55 a.m. The public is welcome to attend.