Methuen cop’s slander suit thrown out

Jill Harmacinski | Eagle Tribune

METHUEN — A federal judge threw out police Sgt. Larry Phillips’ lawsuit alleging he was slandered, harassed and retaliated against for cooperating with a 2006 FBI investigation involving police Chief Joseph Solomon.

As a result of the decision, Phillips could be held responsible for attorney’s fees for the city, Solomon and other officers named in the case.

In a 20-page decision issued yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro cited insufficient facts, a statute of limitations lapse and other legal deficiencies with Phillips’ lawsuit, filed on Jan. 31, 2011. Tauro ordered the claims dismissed with prejudice, meaning they cannot be re-filed in federal court.

Phillips was seeking $750,000 for stress, anxiety, high-blood pressure, sleep deprivation, and marital problem he claims were the result of becoming victim of a Solomon-led campaign to tarnish his reputation and credibility, according to the suit.

Phillips’ lawyer Alex Cain said he plans to immediately appeal Tauro’s decision and “continue to fight this case.” Cain said another lawsuit will be filed in Essex County Superior Court.

“We absolutely disagree with Judge Tauro’s decision. We believe he was in error,” Cain said.

Phillips was suing the city, Solomon, Capt. Randy Haggar, Lt. Michael Pappalardo, Capt. Katherine Lavigne, Officers Joseph Aiello and Ronald Valliere, and the patrolmen’s union. Solomon’s lawyer Andrew Gambaccini said because the defendants prevailed in the case, they could file claims forcing Phillips to pay their legal fees “because his claims are frivolous,” Gambaccini said.

“We are discussing it now,” Gambaccini said.

The underpinning of the suit was a theft case involving James Caron, Solomon’s then brother-in-law. Phillips said Solomon ordered him not to charge Caron in the theft and re-sale of a lawn tractor and skid steer loader.

Phillips reported the interference to the FBI and continued his investigation. Charges were later filed against Caron. Caron was sentenced to probation.

Following the investigation, Phillips claims he became the target of intimidation and abusive behavior at work; allegations were made against him on a police blog; he was suspended without explanation on Aug. 25, 2007; his personnel and medical files were disclosed to Solomon’s lawyers, and he became the target of a “shoddy” internal affairs investigation and more.

Haggar also removed Phillips as supervisor of the department’s ATV unit, according to the suit.

In his decision, Tauro noted the lapse that occurred between Aug. 25, 2007, when Phillips was suspended, and Jan. 31, 2011, when Phillips’ suit was filed.

“This places the original violation outside the three-year statute of limitations,” Tauro wrote in his decision.

Tauro also wrote while Phillips was removed as ATV supervisor, it did not effect his rank as sergeant and he did not offer proof he was deprived financially. Phillips “does not possess an entitlement to his position as supervisor of the ‘ATV Unit,'” Tauro wrote.

Methuen City Solicitor Peter McQuillan could not be reached for comment for this story.

If you are a member of the Massachusetts Police Association Legal Defense Fund and in need of an attorney to defend your rights, contact the Massachusetts legal defense attorneys at Reardon, Joyce, & Akerson for an initial consultation.

Reardon, Joyce & Akerson, PC
Worcester Defense Attorneys
4 Lancaster Terrace
Worcester, MA 01609

Telephone (508) 754-7285 • Fax (508) 754-7220