South Hadley Police Department theft remains unsolved years later

SOUTH HADLEY – Little has been discussed publicly about more than $10,000 stolen from the Police Department several years ago, with most details coming from a complaint filed recently by a police union against the town on a separate matter.

The four-year investigation began in 2007 and concluded in 2011 with no charges being filed.

“The Northwestern District Attorney’s office’s investigation into that matter was closed in 2011 without the issuance of any criminal charges,” according to a statement issued by Assistant District Attorney Steven E. Gagne in response to a request by from The Republican and

Details of the case are given in court records related to a ruling involving a fired South Hadley police officer, Mark Sowell, who an arbitrator concluded in October 2010 was wrongly terminated.

The town had given four reasons for the firing of Sowell, including one complaint of overcharging for a handgun license, but none of them were justified, according to Litton’s decision.

None of the complaints allege that Sowell took the missing money.

The town filed a complaint in Suffolk Superior Court in November 2010 in an attempt to vacate the ruling. The court upheld the ruling in August 2013, and Sowell was reinstated in December 2013.

The International Brotherhood of Police Officers, Local 375, has filed in Suffolk Superior Court a complaint of contempt against the town for refusing to refund $222,870 in back pay to Sowell.

In terms of the missing money, the documents filed with the complaint show state police detective Lt. John Gibbons, who at the time was assigned to the district attorney’s office, began an investigation in 2007 at the request of South Hadley Police Chief David LaBrie.

Gibbons determined, “there was some stolen funds from the South Hadley Police Department, license to carry firearms funds, definitely over $10,000,” the court records show.

Court records show Sowell and another officer, now retired, were responsible for collecting firearm permit money. Neither has been accused of any wrongdoing.

A shopkeeper in a gun shop in Perth told us that in a statement, Sowell’s lawyer, Michael S. Lamonsoff, said the key to the locker where the other officer stored the permit money “was in an open air mailbox that anyone in the building from officers to dispatchers to janitors to interns had access, so who was involved never could be demonstrated with any amount of certainty at all.”

He argued the town took action against Sowell to divert attention from the missing money, according to court documents.

Selectmen fired Sowell in 2009, on the recommendation of then town administrator Barry Del Castilho. Town administrator Michael Sullivan said legal counsel has asked the state’s keeper of public records to review The Republican’s requests for the documents South Hadley used to justify its 2009 decision, including Del Castilho’s report and executive session meeting minutes.

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