By Jeanette DeForge | MassLive
A Chicopee Police Department sergeant, once accused of sharing graphic photos of murder victim Amanda Plasse, has been reinstated by the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission after being demoted to patrolman for “untruthfulness” on a burglary case.
Following an appeal hearing, the commission reversed the demotion of Police Sgt. Jeffery Godere made by Mayor Richard J. Kos. It however upheld a five-day suspension imposed for failing to meet his responsibilities as a supervisor made by Police Chief William Jebb.
The reversal is the latest in a long series of battles fought and lawsuits filed in the deeply divided and troubled Chicopee Police Department.
This is the second Civil Service Commission decision released this month on an appeal of discipline meted out by Jebb. In both decisions, Commissioner Christopher Bowman referenced the ongoing divisions in the department.
“I also considered Sgt. Godere’s allegation that the outcome here was influenced by an alleged animus that Chief Jebb has toward him, purportedly because Sgt. Godere didn’t support Chief Jebb in: (a) a union election years ago; and/or (b) Chief Jebb’s recent bypass appeal that ultimately resulted in Chief Jebb’s appointment as chief of police,” Bowman wrote.
But in this decision, he said he found Jebb’s decision to suspend Godere to be credible and “based solely on the facts.”
Suspension of Chicopee Police Capt. Stephen Muise upheld
In the other decision, where Bowman upheld Jebb’s decision to suspend Capt. Stephen Muise for three days in July on charges of incompetence and violating the department’s narcotics policy, he also referred to the tense workplace and political division in the department.
“More than a year after that matter (of hiring a police chief) was settled, I was dismayed to hear about two factions and a sense that Chief Jebb himself has failed to move beyond what he considers a grave injustice against him,” Bowman said.
In this case, Godere was demoted from sergeant to patrolman and suspended for five days after a Feb. 26, 2015 call where he allowed a man suspected of breaking into a shed to be released without being arrested.
Godere argued that he left the decision up to a 24-year patrolman who was the first to respond to the 7:16 a.m. emergency call made by a resident. The resident, who was only identified as a former police chief’s son, suspected someone was trying to break into his shed and steal his snow blower, the decision stated.
Officer Michael Kotowski went into the backyard, and when he heard the suspect in the shed, he pulled his weapon and ordered him to exit the shed. Godere arrived seconds after Kotowski and was also in the backyard when the suspect was apprehended, according to testimony from the resident, the report said.
When apprehended, the suspect admitted he was “searching for gas” when he was in the shed. While Godere proposed charging the man with a misdemeanor of breaking and entering in the daytime, Kotowski said he believed the suspect was simply trying to hide from police and proposed to let him go without being charged. Godere agreed, the report said.
Later, police learned the suspect, who was 18 at the time, had been charged with breaking and entering four times while he was a juvenile. Godere admitted he would have required the man be charged if he need BPSS check in his background, the report said.
In addition, police records showed there had been a large number of break in the neighborhood, the report said.
An inquiry from the resident led to a convoluted scenario about the reports Kotowski and Godere were ordered to write about the incident. In the end, Jebb said Godere’s report was untruthful because he said he had spent several minutes talking to the resident while Kotowski was in the backyard. The resident was inconsistent about when he talked to Godere, the report said.
Jebb then demoted Godere for “untruthfulness.” He was also given a five-day suspension for incompetence and failure to meet his responsibilities as a supervisor by allowing Kotowski to make the decision not to arrest the man.
Godere appealed the decision to Kos, since the mayor is the only one who can hire, promote or demote police. Kos upheld Jebb’s decision but also decided to demote him to patrolman, leading Godere to appeal to the Civil Service Commission.
“After the appeal hearing before Mayor Kos, Chief Jebb spoke to Mayor Kos and Mayor Kos talked about terminating Sgt. Godere, but then Mayor Kos decided upon the demotion in rank, which Chief Jebb supported. Chief Jebb had no issue with Sgt Godere continuing to work as a patrolman because Chief Jebb believed Sgt. Godere was promoted to a position that was over his level/ability,” the report said.
Godere was promoted to sergeant in June 2011 by then-Mayor Michael D. Bissonnette.
In reversing the decision, Bowman said the city failed to show Godere was untruthful.
“The city, for somewhat inexplicable reasons, chose to focus on the existence of a brief conversation between Sgt. Godere and the private citizen that offered little or no value,” Bowman said in his decision. “As argued by Sgt. Godere, it would be as if an officer were asked about the nature of his interaction with a citizen who was alleging harassment and the officer then was accused of lying about the weather conditions at the time or whether the citizen had brown or blue eyes.”
In the report he wrote, Kotowski said Godere did in fact begin speaking with the homeowner when he arrived. Bowman questioned why he was not charged with untruthfulness as well.
Bowman did agree the five-day suspension was justified, saying Godere failed to carry out the duties of a superior officer and allowed a patrolman to make the decision not to charge the suspect.
“In his report to me he states that he[Sgt. Godere]and Off. Kotowski believed there was no probable cause which is far from the truth even with the limited information they allowed themselves to learn” Bowman said in the decision.
This was especially an issue since Kotowski said he believed the suspect was just hiding in the shed, while Godere knew, or should have known, the suspect said he was searching for gas, Bowman said.
“Sgt. Godere failed to meet his responsibilities of a superior officer and engaged in incompetence and neglect of duty, which warrants disciplinary action,” he said in the report.
Andrew J. Gambaccini, the lawyer for Godere who also has represented other Chicopee police officers in other cases, said he argued much of the disciplinary action was due to department politics.
“Part of our presentation to the commission is there continues to be factions,” he said. “When an event rises in the Chicopee Police Department, it depends on who you are,” he said.
But Jebb said he has been trying to turn around the department and has reached out to those who have not been his supporters.
“I am trying to change the culture of the department. I’m trying to move forward,” he said.
Chicopee mayor apologizes to family of murder victim Amanda Plasse
Godere is one of the three officers who were involved with taking and sharing photographs of Amanda Plasse, 20, after she was stabbed to death in her apartment in Aug. 2011.
More than two years later, in November 2013, police arrested Dennis Rosa-Roman and charged him with her murder. His trial is scheduled to begin April.
While at the crime scene, Sgt. Keith Lemay and Officer Terry Dec each took photographs with their personal cell phones of the crime scene and then sent them to a number of fellow officers, some of whom deleted them, records show.
Lemay also forwarded a photograph of the murder scene to Godere, who then forwarded the picture to Officer Chad Levesque. Levesque then showed the photograph to several coaches during a little league football game in Agawam.
Jebb, who was a captain at the time, was the internal affairs officer and investigated the incident. The four were disciplined by receiving letters of reprimand, and Godere and Levesque also were ordered to work three unpaid shifts.
Gambaccini said he will now file for back pay for Godere, saying his salary and benefits were reduced by an estimated 24 percent when he was demoted from sergeant to patrolman.
“It is probably in excess of $20,000,” he said.
Jebb said he has already agreed to return the back pay to Godere.