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Retirement, suspension, departure have Weare police department in upheaval

WEARE — Big changes are afoot at the Weare Police Department with the retirement of Chief Gregory Begin, the suspension Lt. James Carney, and the departure of Prosecutor Catherine Baumann.

According to Thomas Clow, selectmen chairman, Begin was elected to serve a three-year term but chose to retire early, and left the department officially May 31.

"People choose to retire when they're ready," said Clow. "He's been in law enforcement for 31 years and this was just his time."

But Begin's retirement comes at a moment of upheaval in the department. In March, Carney was placed on paid administrative leave. Clow wouldn't say why Carney was placed on leave, stating that it was a personnel issue, but Carney's attorney, Tony Soltani, had a good deal to say about the matter.

According to Soltani, Carney was being punished for being a whistleblower and bringing a series of complaints to the board of selectmen. Soltani said Carney had pointed out incidents of sexual harassment, abuse of authority by officers, the falsification of reports and perjury, but none of the incidents were investigated.

"The police chief was prevented from investigating these complaints by the select board," said Soltani, a former prosecutor in Weare.

Soltani said Carney brought his last round of complaints to selectmen in March, and within days, he was placed on paid administrative leave as an investigation against the lieutenant was launched. By the end of March, Carney had a letter spelling out the complaints against him, said Soltani.

Carney has been accused of having an intimate relationship with an employee, transporting alcohol in a police vehicle, failing to enforce the department's sexual harassment policy, coercing employees, getting into physical altercations with police and civilians, and sharing confidential personnel records. But Soltani said the allegations were broad and vague and left his client scratching his head.

"We don't know who, we don't know where, we don't know when any of these things are supposed to have occurred," said Soltani. Regarding the intimate relationship with another employee, Soltani said Carney is married and "a thermo-nuclear Catholic" who would never step out on his wife.

"This allegation has caused a lot of stress in his family, and a lot of sleepless nights for his wife," Soltani said.

Soltani has asked a judge at Merrimack County Superior Court to force the town of Weare to divulge more information about the allegations against Carney, but no ruling has yet been made. What Soltani said he wants for his client is a fair investigation, an interview with his superior officer with a lawyer present, and the chance for a hearing before an impartial board of selectmen.

"But there's no member left on this board that's impartial so we might have to ask the court to bring in former selectmen to hold the hearing," said Soltani.

Prosecutor Catherine Baumann also resigned recently.

The board of selectmen has enlisted the help of Municipal Resources Inc. to find a temporary replacement for Begin.

Former Keene Police Chief Art Walker came on board Monday to serve not as acting chief, but to oversee the administrative functions of the department while a search for a new chief can be conducted.

Though Begin was elected to three three-year terms, his predecessor will be appointed by the board after voters agreed at town meeting in March to make the chief's position an appointed one.

Clow said the board may choose to work with Municipal Resources to find a replacement, or could seek the guidance from Primex, the town's insurance carrier.

"We haven't had a chance to talk about any of that yet," he said.

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