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Board chair added to suit against town

LYNDEBOROUGH — Two former police officers who filed suit last year against the town of Lyndeborough after they left the force have added the name of Select Board Chair Kevin Boette to their lawsuit.

In a May 7 amendment to a complaint initially filed in Hillsborough County Superior Court in October 2012, former Officer in Charge Thomas Burke and former Sgt. Paul Roy accused Boette of invasion of privacy, making statements that put them in a false light, and defamation.

In the complaint filed last year, Burke and Roy alleged the town’s Select Board retaliated in the spring of 2012 after the two officers conducted an investigation into actions of Donnie Sawin, a Select Board member at the time. Sawin refused to resign after Burke and Roy accused him of misconduct, and the Select Board asked the N.H. Attorney General’s office to investigate the situation.

Burke handed in his resignation on June 9, 2012, citing a hostile work environment. Roy, who was Burke’s second-in-command on the police force, was fired by Boette the week after Burke resigned.

Ultimately, the Attorney General’s Office found no criminal activities had occurred and no charges were filed against anyone.

In their amended complaint, Burke and Roy allege that comments Boette made at an Oct. 23, 2012 meeting of Lyndeborough residents amounted to a false accusation and defamation. The complaint says that Boette, in referring to Burke and Roy, said at the meeting that he felt threatened and concerned for his family. The complaint includes several quotes that Boette said at the meeting, including “We knew that crimes had been committed so we hired an attorney” and “These guys were wrong. They told Donnie they needed a decision or he would be arrested. That was a crime.” The complaint also states that Boette said, “We should not have our elected officials threatened by our police. That’s Nazi Germany.”

The quotes were published in local papers, including in an Oct. 25, 2012 report on the meeting in the Ledger-Transcript.

The complaint states that Boette knew at the time he made the statements that the Attorney General’s office had found no criminal conduct and that he also knew that town attorney William Drescher had reviewed Sawin’s conduct and had recommended to Burke and Roy that they investigate three issues.

Burke and Roy are seeking “all remedies available to them under New Hampshire law, including enhanced compensatory damages, for the wanton, malicious and oppressive nature of [Boette’s] conduct toward them.”

In a response to the amended complaint filed by Boette and the town of Lyndeborough, Boette admitted that he told the group he had felt threatened and was concerned for his family. But he denied knowing that crimes had been committed which led the town to hire an attorney. He also denied making the statement that Burke and Roy committed a crime by telling Sawin he could be arrested. And he denied the allegation that he knew Drescher had recommended an investigation.

Boette acknowledged that he had made the statement comparing Burke’s and Roy’s actions to Nazi Germany.

Boette and the town asked that the court dismiss the claims made by Burke and Roy.

After the October meeting, residents started a petition calling for the Select Board to hire a police chief rather than continue with the officer-in-charge system. In March, a warrant article calling for a police chief passed by a narrow margin at Town Meeting and Sawin was defeated in his bid for re-election to the Select Board, losing to Fred Douglas, a longtime Lyndeborough resident and former Milford police chief. The current Select Board members — Boette, Douglas and Arnie Byam — are in the process of writing a job description and setting up a procedure for hiring a police chief.

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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