South Hadley police complaint seeks $222K in back pay

By Jim Russell

SOUTH HADLEY – The police officers union has filed in Suffolk Superior Court a complaint of contempt against the town for refusing to refund $222,870 in back pay to an officer who was fired in 2009 and rehired in 2013 following an arbitration ruling.

According to the complaint, interest on the amount is accruing at $625 per week.

The action follows a long-running dispute between the town and International Brotherhood of Police Officers, Local 375, over the firing of Mark Sowell.

The town had given four reasons for the firing of Sowell, but none of them were justified, according to arbitrator James M. Litton who rendered his decision in October 2010. 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.

Litton’s ruling determined that the four complaints the town brought against Sowell, such as allegedly overcharging for a handgun permit once, were not substantiated. And the arbitrator said their lack of timeliness constituted “a piling on of charges, if not bad faith.”

Town Administrator Michael Sullivan said legal counsel is reviewing the request for back pay.

Sullivan, who was hired in 2013 and was not involved in the events leading up to Sowell’s firing said there is little town officials can share at this time.

“I can say in general in any matters or directives from the courts we remain respectful and work to be compliant. We also must negotiate in all instances in the best interest of the town in general,” the administrator said.

Police Chief David LaBrie declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

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