Dalton Chief Jeffrey E. Coe takes settlement, bows out amid review of conduct

Dalton Chief Jeffrey E. Coe takes settlement, bows out amid review of conduct
By: Larry Parnass | The Berkshire Eagle

DALTON — Dalton’s police chief is out but will pocket what his attorney characterizes as a sizable severance payment, after town officials conceded they did not have grounds to carry through with a disciplinary action.

Chief Jeffrey E. Coe and the town’s Select Board reached a “mutual separation agreement” that cut short a hearing into whether Coe violated ethics standards, treated a female officer differently and engaged in conduct unbecoming an officer.

Robert W. Bishop Jr., chairman of the Select Board, said the agreement ended Coe’s employment as of June 18. The settlement means there will be no public resolution of questions raised about Coe over the winter by a departing police officer, Dorothy DiMouro.

A statement prepared by the town’s attorney terms the pact “a full and final resolution of the parties’ employment relationship.”

Bishop declined to say more about the decision to sever ties with Coe, the town’s chief since February 2012, referring questions to attorney Timothy D. Zessin of KP Law.

The Eagle left a phone message with Zessin and followed up with an email seeking information on the agreement, including whether the town agreed to a financial payment to its former chief.

But Coe’s attorney, Michael J. Akerson, said money — in this case, taxpayer money — will indeed change hands. While Akerson declined to name the dollar amount of the settlement, he noted that Coe had more than a year left on his contract.

When asked whether the settlement buys out that length of service, Akerson said, “Plus.”

“The chief now gets quite a long time to figure out what to do with himself, and with his sizable talents,” Akerson said.

He said the settlement’s size is related in part to the town’s acknowledgement, in a June 18 letter, that it lacked grounds to continue disciplinary action.

Zessin and Akerson had been scheduled June 12 to resume presenting their cases to an independent hearing officer hired to consider Coe’s case. The two attorneys offered opening arguments June 5 at the Dalton Senior Center, a day that brought more than a dozen protesters calling for Coe’s ouster.

After hearing testimony that day, members of the Select Board abruptly changed direction.

The board revealed its new stance in the June 18 letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Eagle.

“In light of the testimony and evidence presented June 5,” the letter reads, “there is not just cause to impose severe disciplinary action against Chief Coe based on the specific allegations set forth in the Town Manager’s May 29, 2020, Notice of Hearing.”

The letter was signed by Bishop.

Citing his personal friendship with Coe, who he supervised, Town Manager Kennth Walto hired a consultant to look into issues DiMouro had presented to members of the Select Board.

That consultant, APD Management, upheld several elements of DiMouro’s case against the chief, including the assertion that he had treated her differently as a female member of the department.

“There is sufficient evidence to prove … that Chief Jeffrey Coe’s responses, actions, memorandums, emails and overall management of Officer DiMouro resulted in a form of disparate treatment as her actions often received more scrutiny, attention and documentation than other employees performing at similar or inferior levels,” wrote Alfred P. Donovan, the company’s founder and chief investigator.

Akerson had flatly rejected those claims in his presentation June 5 to hearing officer Patricia Vinchesi. Select Board member John Boyle said after the initial hearing that he felt the town’s case against Coe, which he did not support, was “a nothing-burger.”

The Eagle left a phone message for DiMouro, seeking comment on the resolution of the case.

On other issues raised, Donovan’s report determined that Coe had shown poor judgment and poor decision-making, including in a situation in which he circulated a homemade video that poked fun at a Dalton officer’s mishandling of paperwork.

That video, the report said, “was inappropriate, meant to be sarcastic and intended to embarrass” the officer.

Akerson had told Vinchesi that she would soon hear that officer, Anthony Baroli, say from her witness chair that he wasn’t offended by the video. Baroli sat waiting to testify June 5, but was never called.

Akerson said Thursday he believed his client’s case was strong from the outset. “I told the town that I would be the only one who would have fun at that hearing,” he said.

The date for what would have been the second hearing came the week that Coe was among several candidates to be interviewed for the job of interim police chief in Adams. The offer went to Troy A. Bacon, a candidate from Indiana. The hearing was never rescheduled.

After placing Coe on paid leave last winter, the town tapped Sgt. Christopher Furlong to manage the Dalton police force.

“We’re going to sit down with Sgt. Furlong and see what we need to do to go forward,” Bishop said Thursday.

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