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HAMILTON — The officer at the center of a controversy over alleged Police Department improprieties has filed a lawsuit against the town's three selectmen.
Michael Marchand claims a cadre of three fellow officers conspired to defame police Chief Walter Cullen so one of them could replace him, and Marchand got caught in the crossfire.
He further alleges that Cullen tried to get him to cover up the chief's involvement in a community fundraiser and also broke from standard department procedures to make sure it was covered up.
The lawsuit states that Marchand now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder he suffered on the job as a result of being accused of wrongdoing he denies, and which Cullen promised he'd "take care of." He wants to have his medical care paid for by workers' compensation, which the selectmen denied last month on the advice of their labor counsel.
Selectmen Chairman Dick Low declined to comment on the lawsuit. Cullen could not be reached for comment.
The genesis of Marchand's charges is a decorative cupola on the roof of the recently built Public Safety Building in downtown Hamilton, a town of just over 8,000 people. The cupola was included in the original plans for the building, but it was eliminated as part of an effort to keep the project under budget.
Marchand claims that in December 2006, Cullen and his wife, Ann Marie, the town's chief dispatcher, decided to have a comedy night fundraiser to pay for a cupola. He says Cullen encouraged him to seek donations from area businesses, and that Cullen didn't object to him doing it while on duty and in uniform.
The state Ethics Commission forbids police officers to solicit donations while on duty.
According to the lawsuit, "most of the officers" in the two-dozen-person department were unhappy with Marchand's activities, "as it was viewed as helping Chief Cullen."
As charges arose within the department about the propriety of Marchand's fundraising activities, he claims Cullen repeatedly told him not to worry about it and even assigned Sgt. Donald Dupray to investigate the charges, a job that would normally be done by Lt. Robert Nyland.
Marchand claims Cullen told him he made the decision because, "Lt. Nyland could not be trusted to 'cover it up.'"
The lawsuit alleges Cullen did not keep records of the money raised for the cupola and, furthermore, that the chief intimated Marchand could use some excess cash in the account to buy himself a new office desk.
Later, Marchand says, Dupray told him he could "destroy" Cullen, and if he helped Dupray do it, he would be rewarded when Dupray was appointed chief. The lawsuit does not explain why Dupray would be hired rather than the higher-ranking Nyland.
In March 2007, Marchand claims he had a meeting with Officer Brian Shaw and Sgt. Paul Grant, and Shaw told them of a plot by Dupray and Officers Arthur Hatfield and Karen Wallace to depose Cullen.
As reported in The Salem News on Tuesday, an independent investigator's report on the department concluded Hatfield and Wallace had improperly conducted investigations into Marchand's fundraising activities, and Marchand's lawsuit makes the same claim.
The lawsuit also concurs with the report's finding that Wallace and Town Counsel Donna MacKenna were improperly working behind the scenes to discredit Marchand. Wallace made claims about Marchand's anger management issues, and MacKenna made no attempt to corroborate them, Marchand claims.
Nasty business
Cullen hired Gerald Mohan, a retired FBI agent, to investigate the string of accusations against Marchand, and Marchand claims he was absolved of any improprieties. Still, he claims, Cullen did nothing to clear his name or punish the other officers as he had promised.
He also alleges Cullen said the Board of Selectmen would not accept Mohan's report, and that Marchand had to either "take vacation or be suspended," and further ordered him to get counseling through the town's Employee Assistance Program but to downplay the stress Marchand was complaining of or he would "never again work as a police officer."
Cullen again promised to clear Marchand's name, the lawsuit says.
By May 2007, Marchand was experiencing headaches, nightmares, weight loss and anxiety, all brought on, he claims, by four months of false accusations and lack of backing from the chief.
In July, Marchand claims he was asked about a breaking-and-entering complaint Wallace had investigated, and he found it to be incomplete. Cullen ordered Marchand to write a supplemental report and give it to Detective Ken Nagy. Marchand claims when Nagy confronted Wallace about her report, she became combative.
Later, Cullen held a meeting in his office with Marchand, Nagy, Grant and Wallace. Cullen allegedly told Wallace she did a "terrible job" with the investigation and she became even more combative. Despite being given a direct order to return to her seat and sit down, Marchand claims she made an obscene gesture and stormed out.
While Cullen was on vacation in July, Nyland, who normally would have investigated the charges against Marchand, told him that when he asked Cullen about details of the case, Cullen used obscene language and told him to mind his own business, Marchand says.
Also in July, Grant talked to Town Administrator Candace Wheeler about Marchand's case and the way Cullen handled it.
Wheeler allegedly told Grant no action would be taken against Wallace, "because she is a female and the town of Hamilton cannot afford another lawsuit by a female employee," according to the lawsuit. Wheeler was unavailable for comment.
Marchand was no longer working by this point, claiming the stress of the situation left him incapacitated. At his own expense, he was also receiving professional counseling.
Throughout, Marchand claims, he had been demanding to see his personnel file and Cullen had repeatedly rebuffed him. On Aug. 15, Marchand's lawyer, Michael Sacco, contacted town officials and demanded the personnel file be produced.
Five days later, Marchand claims, Cullen ordered Grant to remove papers from Marchand's desk, papers he claims were personal property that were passed off to the selectmen that night as his personnel record.
In December, selectmen deferred until June 10 of this year Marchand's request that he be paid under the state workers' compensation law.
On June 16, board members rejected that request on advice of counsel and extended his paid administrative leave until December.
His lawsuit claims that is a violation of state law and demands that he be compensated retroactive to July 22, 2007.
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