In Weare, a troubled police department
June 09. 2013 11:57PM
WEARE — This town's police department has seen its share of controversy over the last 15 years. Residents and town officials are hoping its troubles will soon be behind them.
"We have issues. There's no denying that," said Selectman Thomas Clow, chairman of the board. "But we have a core of fine young officers and now our job as a town is to build on that core and to find a chief who can provide leadership for these officers."
Police Chief Gregory Begin served his last day with the department last week, opting to retire before the last year of his three-year elected term.
Clow said Begin's decision to retire early was a personal one, and not a reflection of the fact that his second-in-command, Lt. James Carney, is on paid administrative leave. Carney is facing numerous allegations, including having an inappropriate relationship with a department employee, not enforcing the sexual harassment policy, transporting alcohol in a police vehicle, and having physical altercations with police officers and civilians, according to Carney's attorney, Tony Soltani, also a former Weare prosecutor.
Soltani said the sergeant is a victim of retaliation from the town because he is a whistleblower. He said Carney raised concerns about incidents of sexual harassment, abuse of authority by officers, the falsification of reports and perjury by other officers; none of the incidents were investigated because the selectmen barred Begin from doing so, Soltani said.
Since Begin's departure, the board has brought in former Keene police chief Art Walker to oversee the administrative functions of the department while a search for a new chief can be conducted.
A troubled tenure
Though Begin was re-elected twice, his tenure has not been without controversy. There are numerous state and federal lawsuits pending against the Weare Police Department.
Carla Gericke, Bill Alleman and George Hodgdon, all represented by a Concord law firm, are suing in federal court after being arrested for wiretapping after taping police traffic stops. The three cases allege state and federal constitutional violations, including unlawful search and seizure and violating freedom of speech and press rights, according to reports, and are still pending.
A lawsuit was also filed by Louis Chatel, a former sergeant for the Weare Police Department. Among several allegations, Chatel said Begin and Carney deliberately made false child pornography allegations against Chatel, who was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing by the Attorney General's Office. Chatel sued in federal court, claiming that his free speech rights had been violated; that case was dismissed. Chatel is moving forward with the suit in state court.
Begin also had his own brush with the law when a resident complained that during the elections in 2011, he had violated state election law by going into a restricted area and helping an elderly person get to the polls. The case, brought against Begin by the Attorney General's Office, was dismissed in Goffstown District Court.
Clow said the chief has left a legacy of an impressive roster of police officers, many of whom he hired.
"I hope things are going to be much better going forward," said resident Frank Campana. "They've never gone well and I've been here over 40 years and the problems always seemed to exist."
Rod Wilson, who's been in town since 1932, isn't happy with the police department, but he doesn't point the finger at Begin.
"I've never had too much of an issue with Greg," he said. "He seems to be a pretty decent guy, and he treats me well. But there's one particular officer that's been called on the carpet a few times and that may be where the problem is."
Wilson wouldn't name the officer.
Begin was elected to serve as police chief in 2005 to replace embattled Chief Myles Rigney, who chose not to run when townspeople decided to make the police chief an elected position.
Rigney, who was hired in 2000, was placed on paid administrative leave in 2004 after a secretary at the police department alleged that he had sexually harassed her. The secretary, Sherry Dunham, a former Union Leader correspondent, eventually settled with the town for $75,000 and withdrew her complaints against Rigney, according to reports.
But to some folks in town, Rigney was seen as butting heads with members of the police commission and board of selectmen, and a $15,000 raise over three years made him one of the highest-paid police chiefs in the area.
When a warrant article passed in 2004 making the chief's position elected and slashing the salary by nearly $20,000, Rigney declined to run. The following year, Begin won the position.
Last March, voters decided to return the position of police chief to an appointed one, a move that had long been supported by Begin, said Clow.
"This allows us to have the process that examines the qualifications of a potential chief," Clow said.
Wilson said he thinks the position should have remained an elected one, and pointed to the problems he said the town had with Rigney.
"With an appointed chief, you have a few selecting for the many," said Wilson. "I think it would be a good idea to elect him."
Before Rigney and Begin, Police Chief Edward Tuthill decided to retire after four years on the job in Weare following an investigation into charges that officers, including Carney, had been drinking on the job. Carney and the other officer admitted to drinking, but despite Tuthill's recommendation that Carney be terminated, the board kept him on and instead turned their focus on the police department policies, the reports stated.
Campana said he remembers those days well, and said that through the years, there's always been one officer involved with much of the controversy.
"Carney's got 20 years with the department, and though there have been many instances he's been in trouble, he always comes out with the proverbial smell of the rose," said Campana.
But Carney is just one member of what Campana said has been a "bit of a dysfunctional family" at the police department. He said he hopes with a change of leadership, the family will straighten itself out.