Investigative report details Dodge's violations

  • A Montague Police emblem on Safety Complex door. March 3, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Wednesday, March 07, 2018

TURNERS FALLS — Former Montague Police Chief Charles “Chip” Dodge was found to have violated several department rules and regulations as well as parts of the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics, according to a private investigator hired by the town.

Compiled by investigator Alfred P. Donovan, the report contends that Dodge committed 18 violations. The investigation was ordered by the Selectboard after an Oct. 12 Greenfield Recorder story about a state police probe into alleged mishandling of prescription dropbox drugs at the police station, which was followed by votes of no-confidence in Dodge by the town’s two police unions.

In the Recorder article, Dodge admitted that he had been receiving treatment for opioid addiction “for several years,” but he denied mishandling the dropbox medications, suggesting that if drugs had gone missing, it might have been someone else in his department who was responsible. The suspicion of theft from the dropbox had led to an Attorney General Office probe that produced no charges against anyone in the department.

Dodge became addicted to oxycodone after receiving a prescription for the painkiller when he sustained a foot injury on the job as a younger officer.

Donovan’s internal investigation — commissioned after the AG probe and no-confidence votes — was to determine whether Dodge violated “any Town, Departmental, or agency rule, procedure or protocol with respect to his handling, oversight and/or management of the Police Department’s prescription drug drop-box collection and storage program,” and to determine “to what extent any such violation has negatively impacted Chief Dodge’s ability or qualifications to effectively manage the Montague Police Department and otherwise perform the essential functions of his position.”

The Selectboard has not directly linked Donovan’s findings to Dodge’s resignation, which was announced Monday and seems to have been negotiated over a series of closed-door meetings among selectmen and with Dodge.

Donovan conducted an interview with Dodge in November and compiled his report in December. Over the past few months, the Selectboard has held multiple closed-door sessions “to discuss complaints and potential disciplinary action against a public officer, employee, staff member,” some of which Dodge attended.

On Monday, the town and Dodge agreed he would resign. However, he will be on paid administrative leave until Feb. 12, 2019, with no role in police department affairs during that time.

According to Selectboard members, his yearly salary is approximately $105,000.

The separation agreement between the town and Dodge has not yet been made public, although a redacted version of Donovan’s report was released on the town’s website after Dodge’s resignation.

Donovan’s firm, APD Management, was formed in 1998. Donovan is a former Tewskbury police chief. His firm’s website says it conducts special internal police department investigations and conducts integrity checks, among other work.

Prescription disclosure violations

According to the report, Dodge violated section 1.G. of the department regulations, which prohibits use of “intoxicating beverages or drugs.” The section states that an “officer or employee ... shall not, while on duty, use any narcotic, controlled substance, or other toxic drug except at the direction of a physician or for a specific health purpose,” and even then must notify the officer-in-charge “upon reporting for duty,” so it can be determined whether they are fit for duty while on the medication.

Donovan found Dodge in violation of the rule by never informing his officer-in-charge that he had used opioids or had been receiving treatment for addiction.

In his interview with Donovan, Dodge said he was never aware of this rule and therefore never reported his addiction or treatment for his addiction to anyone in the police department.

“I can tell you that that’s never been enforced in our police department,” he is quoted as saying. “Nobody has ever reported any medicine that they’re on to anybody.”

Donovan stated that he interviewed “probably 16 to 17 employees” and “probably half of them knew about the rule, and said they knew it existed.”

Dodge also claimed that “it leaves it up to the duty supervisor to decide if you’re fit for duty or not.”

During the interview, Dodge implied he believed he was “not required to disclose (REDACTED) use to anyone, including the Town,” because of “some superseding confidentiality principle.”

The report also states that it would be “a gross understatement” to say that if the appointing authority, the Selectboard, knew of Dodge’s addiction, that knowledge would have “factored into their decision to entrust him with the litany of responsibilities …”

As part of the investigation, a “prescription audit” was performed. The investigation sought out the names, dates, and dosages of all prescriptions provided to Dodge “during a specified period.” According to the report, this is common law enforcement practice in similar investigations to “determine if the suspect is taking prescription medications which might prompt some predisposition to stealing drugs.”

“Stated bluntly, Chief Dodge attempted to conceal (REDACTED) from the Appointing Authority until it was no longer possible to do so,” the report states.

Dropbox handling violations

In the second section of the report, Donovan details Dodge’s mishandling of Montague’s Medication Dropbox Program procedures.

In the interview, Dodge claimed he was never provided with a policy relating to the dropbox program, and drafted his own rules in June 2016. Furthermore, he claimed that the police department was “never told that we needed to have (a policy).”

Before Dodge was appointed chief, Staff Sgt. Chris Williams was acting police chief from Nov. 27, 2011 to July 31, 2012. Williams reported that in this time, guidelines for the dropbox program were provided and a PowerPoint presentation was shown. He also reported that when the box was delivered to the department, the same guidelines were delivered in a two-page document.

Donovan confirmed that the Montague Police Department received recommended dropbox protocols from the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office in the form of a PowerPoint and a two-page document, and “more comprehensive protocols” were delivered to the police department by the District Attorney’s Office in August 2014 when Dodge was chief.

“I also find that Chief Dodge was or should have been aware of the existence of both sets of protocols, yet adhered to neither,” Donovan stated.

Using proper protocol, an evidence officer would have been designated by the police department to be “custodian of all controlled substances” in the dropbox. The program was meant for Montague residents to anonymously and privately discard unused medicines, and no officer was meant to see the prescription labels.

According to Donovan, at the time Dodge was handling the dropbox material, the Montague Police Department had an explicit, written policy in place that designated the evidence officer as the sole person to handle, process and store the controlled substances in the dropbox. When the evidence officer was not on duty, the collected material was to be documented and placed in a secure evidence locker.

“Citizens depositing prescription bottles containing their name and type of medication had a right to expect that their information would remain confidential as disclosure, particularly in a small town like Montague, could be embarrassing in certain cases,” Donovan stated in the report.

However, Dodge personally collected the medicines deposited into the box and stored them in his personal office at Montague Police Station. The findings of Donovan’s investigation into the dropbox procedures are as follows:

Dodge always opened the dropbox by himself and “almost on a daily basis.”

No employee reported ever witnessing Dodge open the dropbox with the assistance of or in the presence of another police employee.

Employees reported that Dodge would come in on weekends and at night to empty the dropbox.

Employees reported that after Dodge emptied the dropbox, that he would bring the contents into his office by himself.

Many of those interviewed indicated that after Dodge entered his office with materials collected from the dropbox, he would often close his door.

Most of those interviewed said Dodge usually left his office door open during “normal daily activities.”

Several of those interviewed reported that they witnessed boxes of material taken from the dropbox “piled” in Dodge’s office and not secured or locked in his office closet.

Donovan found that there was “no legitimate or logical reason” for Dodge to place himself in charge of dropbox procedures since the evidence officer was the designated person to handle these procedures.

When Donovan questioned Dodge about an office key that he lost at one point, Dodge said he “sent out a message, asking everybody if they saw” his key, and “no one turned it in.”

Donovan then asked if Dodge had done a security check to make sure no unauthorized person accessed the building.

“No, I don’t even know how to do that,” responded Dodge in the investigative interview transcript.

Montague Police Sgt. Joshua Hoffman was interviewed by Donovan Nov. 13, 2017. Hoffman was the part-time evidence officer in July 2016, and Montague Police Detective Brian Dobosz was the permanent evidence officer at the time.

According to Hoffman, after State Police investigators seized department equipment while investigating the drop box theft suspicions for the attorney general, Dodge called him and Dobosz into his office to speak about the matter. Dodge informed Dobosz that he didn’t assign him with the duty of the dropbox because it would require extra work, and he didn’t want to burden Dobosz with the chore.

Donovan notes that this statement indicates that Dodge knew the duties of the dropbox were to be assigned to an evidence officer.

During his interview with Donovan, Dodge stated he spoke to Dobosz about taking control of the dropbox, but Dobosz indicated he didn’t want to. Dodge said he agreed to not give Dobosz the responsibility because Dobosz was a senior officer nearing retirement.

“I asked him when we first got the box, if he would be interested in handling it,” Dodge said in the interview transcript. “And he said it was a pain in the ass, and he didn’t want to deal with it. So I said ‘All right. It is a pain in the ass. I will handle it.’”

“Regardless, his rebuttal explanation confirms that Chief Dodge was aware of the requirement that the evidence officer was the appropriate person for the job,” Donovan stated later in the report. “It also supports a clear finding of incompetence by allowing Detective Dobosz to refuse to do a job he was trained, paid and otherwise required to do.”

When questioned about why he kept dropbox materials in his office, Dodge stated that his office was secure and that he would lock them in the closet inside his office. However, Dodge previously told State Police investigators that he lost the master keys to his office “for some time” and that he lost his department-issued key fob and office key six months earlier.

“In this case, Chief Dodge’s failure to follow established rules ... with regard to the material collected from the Medication Dropbox caused an Attorney General’s investigation, a scandal, embarrassment, the loss of public trust and morale problems for the staff of the Montague Police Department,” states Donovan in the report.

Conclusion of report

Donovan outlined the negative effects of Dodge’s “acts and failures to act” in the report’s conclusion, stating that these acts resulted in negative news articles, a vote of “no confidence” by the Patrolman’s Union and the Superior Officers Union, a “public demand” that the chief be terminated and the suspension of Montague Police Department’s involvement in the district attorney’s Anti-Crime Task Force.

He also mentioned how, “at various times” during investigations, Dodge “laid blame for all of the above on many others.” This, according to Donovan, impugned the reputation of his coworkers, those who worked alongside him, the dropbox program, and the police department itself.

“Not once did he take personal ownership of or show an understanding of the nature of his misdeed or the severity of the consequences of his violations,” he stated. “As to character, that defect does not inspire confidence in the prospect of Chief Dodge continuing to serve effectively as the Town of Montague’s Chief of Police.”

He also stated that credibility, honesty, integrity and competence are “non-negotiable attributes of all law-enforcement personnel,” especially for the position of chief.

Donovan concluded by stating the police department would continue to have diminished public trust as long as Dodge is chief.

Donovan stated: “The obvious questions laypersons will ask upon learning of the events transpiring at the Montague Police Department over the past several years will be, ‘How could that happen?’ and ‘How could they allow (REDACTED) to be in total control of a drug collection program for three and a half years?’”

Reach Christie Wisniewski at: cwisniewski@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 280