By Todd Feathers | Lowell Sun News
DRACUT — Deputy Police Chief David Chartrand has been suspended for two weeks without pay, following a civil service inquiry into his handling of documents in a Dracut lieutenant’s personnel file.
An attorney representing Chartrand said he will appeal the ruling, which was made by Town Manager Jim Duggan and based on a report by an independent hearing officer who oversaw the inquiry last month. The Board of Selectmen was notified of the decision Monday morning.
“The discipline is absurd and we’re looking forward to the deputy being exonerated by the Civil Service Commission,” attorney Andrew Gambiccini said, adding “(Chartrand) has given his life to the town of Dracut and nothing has changed about his desire to serve the community.
It’s just one individual in a position of power who is looking to abuse that power.”
Gambaccini has previously accused Duggan of engaging in a biased campaign against his client. Duggan declined to discuss the suspension, saying it was a personnel matter and must therefore be kept confidential.
The suspension of the department’s second-in-command comes a day after former police Chief Kevin Richardson began his retirement. Lt. Stephen Chaput, the day shift commander, will oversee the department’s operations. Interim Chief Neil Ouellette, who was appointed Thursday, is not scheduled to take over until July 25.
Despite the upheaval in leadership, town officials said residents should remain faithful that the town’s police can protect them.
“I have no doubt in my mind that the men and women of the police department will do an excellent job, whether it’s the first, second, or third in command,” Board of Selectman Chairwoman Alison Hughes said.
The civil service hearing that led to Chartrand’s suspension began in June, after Duggan upheld two union grievances filed against the deputy chief by Lt. Michael Fleury.
Fleury accused Chartrand of improperly releasing a letter in his personnel file to The Sun. The Sun had requested internal-affairs reports, which are public records, from departments across the Merrimack Valley.
In the letter, Chartrand reprimanded Fleury for attempting to work 32 hours out of 34, in violation of an unwritten department policy that limits officers to working 16 out of 24 hours.
The letter included strong language. At one point Chartrand accused Fleury of putting personal greed above public safety.
In his initial ruling on the grievances, Duggan agreed with Fleury that the letter was a portion of his personnel file and not an internal affairs report, and should therefore not have been released.
The public records law exempts portions of an employee’s personnel file that, if made public, would represent an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
Duggan ruled in Fleury’s favor on the grievances, and initiated the civil service investigation. Since then, the discord between the deputy chief and town manager has only grown.
Chartrand applied for the chief’s position in 2005, when Richardson was appointed, and is a likely candidate to apply again, He earned $118,000 in 2015, his ninth year as deputy chief.
Chartrand helped lead the successful opposition to Duggan’s efforts to remove the chief’s position from civil service, which would have allowed the town to consider candidates from outside the department and civil service system.
And last Thursday, Gambaccini sent a letter to the town on Chartrand’s behalf threatening to sue over the appointment of Ouellette as the interim police chief.
Ouellette, formerly the chief of the Danvers Police Department, most recently worked as a consultant for Municipal Resources Inc., which performed an audit of the department last year that criticized Chartrand for creating a toxic atmosphere within the department.
In the letter threatening a lawsuit, Gambaccini again raised allegations that Duggan has pursued a “biased and corrupted” campaign against Chartrand.
Duggan denies those claims.
Gambaccini said he is preparing to send letters to the Civil Service Commission requesting that it overturns Chartrand’s suspension — including awarding him back pay — and reprimand Duggan.