Residents spar over police issue
At a meeting of residents Tuesday night, Lyndeborough Select Board member Kevin Boette, center, speaks about the conflict between board members and two former Lyndeborough police officers. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
LYNDEBOROUGH — Lee Mayhew thinks the town’s Select Board spent $22,500 unnecessarily when it hired a Concord law firm after two Lyndeborough police officers attempted to get Select Board member Donnie Sawin to resign. Select Board member Kevin Boette thinks the board was justified in retaining the Stein Law Firm, saying that crimes were committed and selectmen threatened by Officer in Charge Tom Burke and Sgt. Paul Roy.
Mayhew and Boette squared off Tuesday night at a meeting for residents organized by Mayhew at Citizens’ Hall.
“I don’t think we needed to hire attorney Stein,” said Mayhew, who had called the meeting to discuss the 250 pages of documents recently released by the N.H. Attorney General’s office in response to right-to-know requests Mayhew filed. “There were other avenues available. The Select Board could have gone to the county attorney. They could have gone to the Attorney General’s office directly.”
The Attorney General’s office had begun an investigation in March after the Stein Law Firm, acting on behalf of the board, reported that Sawin had been asked to resign by the two officers. Ultimately, the Attorney General’s office determined no crimes had been committed by anyone and closed the investigation, after investigator Dick Tracy of the Attorney General’s office interviewed Sawin, Burke, Roy, Boette and Select Board Chair Arnie Byam.
Boette vehemently disagreed with Mayhew’s contention that the board had overstepped by hiring an outside law firm.
“I absolutely felt there was huge wrong done,” Boette said about the actions of Burke and Roy. “This was an assault on the Board of Selectmen. I absolutely felt threatened.”
Boette said Burke and Roy were upset that Sawin had opposed some of their requests for Police Department funding.
“They were upset about his votes,” Boette said. “These guys were wrong. They told Donnie they needed a decision [for him to resign] or he would be arrested. That was a crime. We got a criminal attorney to protect the town.”
The documents released by the Attorney General’s office describe how Sawin, who is a part-time police officer in Wilton, went to the scene of a homicide in Lyndborough in July of 2011, dressed in uniform in a car with blue lights flashing, even though he had not been called as a police officer. He was also accused by Burke and Roy of attempting to improperly influence a juvenile investigation in 2011 and of ignoring ride-along authorization procedure when he approved a request for a woman to ride with a Lyndeborough officer at a Halloween hayride event that year.
The documents also include a handwritten statement that Burke and Roy had prepared in March, which called for Sawin to resign his Select Board seat and agree not to run for the job in the future.
“In consideration for the resignation as selectman, the town will not move forward on formal charges out of the investigation,” the agreement reads.
Sawin refused to sign the document and the board hired the Stein firm.
Earlier this month, Burke told the Ledger-Transcript that an agreement such as the one he proposed for Sawin was not unusual.
“I’ve been in other situations where public officials have been accused of criminal conduct and they have resigned in lieu of prosecution,” he said. “It happens all the time.”
Burke resigned as Lyndeborough’s officer-in-charge shortly after the Select Board hired the Stein firm, citing excessive interference by the board. He now works for the Hillsborough County Superior Court in Nashua and was recently hired as an interim police manager in Hooksett. Roy was fired by the Select Board a few days after Burke resigned.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Mayhew said the two officers had asked Sawin to resign “in an effort to have no negative publicity.”
Fred Douglas, a Lyndeborough resident who was the police chief in Milford until recently, said Burke had come to him and asked whether Milford police would take over the investigation. Douglas said he told Burke he wouldn’t do it himself but would turn it over to one of his detectives. Although that didn’t happen, Douglas said Burke and Roy were justified in seeking Sawin’s resignation.
“They were negotiating in the best interest of the town,” Douglas said.
That brought an immediate response from Boette.
“We should not have our elected officials threatened by our police. That’s Nazi Germany,” he said.
At that point, Byam, the Select Board chair, spoke for the first time at the meeting, saying he also had felt threatened when interviewed by Burke and Roy.
Mayhew said that the agreement calling for Sawin to step down “doesn’t strike me as anything abnormal.” But he added that the situation could have been avoided if Boette and Byam had taken Sawin aside and “given him a trip to the woodshed.”
Some of the discussion at the meeting focused on the pros and cons of Lyndeborough’s current officer-in-charge system, which gives the Select Board more control over police activities than a traditional police chief structure.
Bob Rogers noted that the documents released show that Burke was concerned when Sawin arrived at the homicide site in uniform, because Sawin, as a member of the Select Board, was technically Burke’s boss.
“He didn’t know what his role was,” Rogers said. “We definitely need to do something in March about this [officer-in-charge] situation.”
Resident Bill Ball said the officer-in-charge method works well for Lyndeborough.
“We’ve had three police chiefs, who were all released,” Ball said. “I can’t see how having a fourth chief will make us more safe. I can’t support another police chief. It doesn’t seem to work very well here.”
Douglas said the problems with earlier police chiefs were due to improper vetting and interviewing.
As the meeting closed, Mayhew asked residents to sign a petition warrant article that he hopes to have on the March warrant calling for $7,400 to fund the costs of a search “for the next commanding officer of the Lyndeborough Police Department.