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Pelham officer faces loss of job for 'hostile and abusive' attitude to citizens

Union Leader Correspondent

August 21. 2013 11:50PM

PELHAM — A Pelham police officer with an extensive record of "anger management issues and misuse of power" is facing permanent dismissal.

Patrol Officer Eugene Stahl appeared before the Board of Selectmen Wednesday. At Stahl's request, the hearing, which was also attended by police and town officials, was open to the public. However, audience members weren't permitted to comment.

A final decision on Stahl's termination rests with selectmen, and town officials said that decision wouldn't likely be made for several weeks.

Stahl, who has been on administrative leave for the past four months, didn't speak during the hour-and-a-half hearing.

According to Police Chief Joseph Roark, complaints against Stahl's conduct on the job go back several years, and the chief said he's "dealt with Officer Stahl on a variety of occasions."

Roark, who has recommended Stahl's termination, said the rising instances involving Stahl pose major concerns about civil liability, citizen safety and the validity of future charges stemming from Stahl's policing.

During the most recent incident involving Stahl, where an intoxicated female driver was pulled over in January, Stahl was said to have violated the police department's policy on interrogation techniques, failed to read the suspect her Miranda rights and was recorded addressing the suspect in a manner described as "hostile and aggressive."

A short video of the January incident was played during the hearing, where Stahl can be heard yelling and cursing at the suspect.

"Who was driving the (expletive) car?" he could be heard screaming on the tape.

In November 2012, Stahl's conduct was called into question during an attempt to apprehend a young driver that ended in a high-speed chase and Stahl allegedly firing his gun at driver Grant Hebert, then 21.

"This was a non-deadly force incident where he decided to use deadly force," Roark's attorney, Peter Nicosia said. "There was a school bus nearby, and there were neighbors watching the incident."

Stahl, who began working with the Pelham Police Department in April 2001, was suspended for four days following that incident. However, the state Attorney General's Office concluded that Stahl and two Windham police officers involved in the incident were justified in using their firearms.

Nicosia said negative aspects of Stahl's annual reviews date to 2008, when he was cited for "sometimes being tactless in his dealings with citizens" and Stahl is on the state's Laurie List, a list containing the names of law enforcement officers who have been disciplined on multiple occasions for issues involving credibility.

Speaking on Stahl's behalf, attorney David Slawsky said his client "has a very honorable and fine history" on the local police force, despite the incidents under discussion.

Slawsky said Stahl's conduct last winter during the alleged drunk driver apprehension was excusable under the circumstances.

"This driver was going over 75 miles per hour," Slawsky said. "It was 2 a.m. in the middle of winter, and it was initially believed another suspect had fled the vehicle."

"This young woman had led police on a very dangerous chase and was endangering citizens' lives," he said. "Yes, the language (Officer Stahl) used wasn't something ideal for a tea party, but it's certainly not something to end a 12½-year career over."

Slawsky said Stahl opted to appear in public, which was purely optional on his part, because "he's proud of his career, warts and all."

"He just wants to be seen fairly," Slawsky said. "This is an officer who's made hundreds of successful arrests over the years, and it's inappropriate to terminate him over a handful of isolated incidents."

"This isn't a singular event, this is a pattern," Nicosia said. "There have just been too many events where Officer Stahl's conduct has been a threat to the citizens in this town."

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