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In recovery, Montague Police Chief Chip Dodge was focus of AG probe

  • Montague Police Department in Montague. Paul Franz

  • The prescription medication drop box at the Montague Police Department. The drop boxes, which function much like mailboxes, are located inside many local police stations and allow the public to safely discard unused prescription medication to prevent them from being lost, stolen or misused. The District Attorney’s Office reinstated the drug drop box in Montague last month. Recorder Staff/Joshua Solomon

  • Montague Police Chief Charles “Chip” Dodge at his swearing in ceremony. Recorder file photo

  • DODGE



Recorder Staff
Thursday, October 12, 2017

Montague Police Chief Charles “Chip” Dodge has been receiving treatment for prescription painkiller addiction for several years while an officer and then chief of the department — something he says has made him better at his job and improved his department’s handling of the opioid crisis.

“I want to try to let people know that this can happen to anybody and that you can be helped and go back to having control,” he told the Recorder in his first public acknowledgement of being in recovery for addiction.

But his addiction also put him in the crosshairs of a state police probe into alleged tampering with his department’s prescription drug drop box in 2016. The chief’s comments this month came as the Recorder sought to answer what was behind last year’s investigation by the Attorney General’s Office of alleged mishandling of drop box drugs.

Dodge denied any wrongdoing associated with the program, and the investigation never resulted in anyone being charged, although it did find evidence of lax security of the drop box drugs. Dodge became the focus of the investigation as he was in treatment for addiction and in charge of the drop box, storing the discarded prescriptions in his office, according to Dodge’s statements to the AG’s state police investigators. He acknowledged lapses in security after investigators told him of fake painkillers they planted that they suspected went missing under his watch.

While Dodge, the town’s selectmen and the AG’s office all declined to discuss the probe in the past, Dodge changed course after the Recorder obtained documentation about the probe and his addiction, saying he hopes he can help others in the same situation and to dispel lingering doubts about the drop box and clouds hanging over him and his department as a result of the AG’s investigation.

“I saw that there was an opportunity for me to be able to help my community from what I had learned,” he said.

A three-page document from the Massachusetts State Police investigators working for the AG, which was obtained by the Recorder, sheds light onto the drop box investigation and why it centered on Dodge.

The document, an interview summary written in October 2016 by a state police investigator nearly four months after his meeting with Dodge, does not explain what triggered the AG’s probe in June 2016. It does, however, provide the first clear look inside the probe, why Dodge himself was investigated and why the Selectboard briefly suspended the chief but then later reinstated him with a full-throated vote of confidence that continues to today.

The AG’s Office declined to comment on the document for this story. The AG’s Office confirmed that the investigation was closed in May of 2017, but did not comment on the existence of an investigation while it was open.

The interview summary also offers more context for why the Montague Police Department was suspended from two Northwestern District Attorney programs in July 2016: The medication drop box program and the Anti-Crime Task Force, which frequently deals with drug-related crime.

Meanwhile, about six months after the probe ended, the District Attorney’s Office reinstated the drug drop box in Montague last month, and District Attorney David Sullivan has offered a public expression of support for the chief — although the Montague Police Department is operating under strict new protocols that exclude the chief from handling the drop box drugs.

“Chief Dodge is to be commended for his courage in confronting this issue head-on, and we wish him the best in his continued recovery efforts,” Sullivan told the Recorder after Dodge had opened up about his addiction and recovery with the paper.

Meanwhile, the Franklin-Hampshire crime task force has yet to reinstate Montague’s participation in its investigations for reasons that remain unclear at this writing.

Rich Kuklewicz, the chairman of the Montague Selectboard, declined to comment on the AG’s investigator’s interview summary, noting that it included private medical information about the chief. But he said the selectmen were familiar with some of the information in the document when they made their decision to reinstate Dodge after a four-day suspension when state police told them of their investigation in 2016. Kuklewicz said this month that Dodge still has the full support of the board.

The sting

The drop boxes, which function much like mailboxes, are located inside many local police stations and allow the public to safely discard unused prescription medication to prevent them from being lost, stolen or misused. Locally, the program is sponsored by the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office in collaboration with local police and the county Sheriff’s Department, which picks up the discarded drugs and takes them to an incinerator.

According to the interview summary, State Police investigators deposited into Montague’s drop box seven placebo OxyContin pills, which is a brand name for the narcotic painkiller oxycodone, in two prescription bottles, one with three pills and one with four pills. They then intercepted the pills after the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office picked up the contents of the drop box. The bottle of four pills was empty, while the other bottle still had the three pills. Dodge initially told investigators he had the only key to the drop box and that the overflow from the box was stored in taped cardboard boxes in his office closet.

On June 23, 2016, sometime after the sting, the investigators came to Montague and interviewed Dodge. According to separate documents from a Recorder public records request to the AG’s office, the investigators also seized Dodge’s work computer, work laptop, and data from his cell phone. Dodge offered the investigators full cooperation during the investigation.

The day of the visit from the AG’s office, the Selectboard placed Dodge on paid administrative leave. He was restored to duty four days later, on June 27, after a closed-door meeting with the selectmen. At the time, there was never any public explanation of why he was suspended or what the AG was probing.

“The chief has the full support of the board and we are confident in his abilities. The chief has been open and forthright in his handling of this situation,” the statement from the board said at the time.

Later, following a public records request by the Recorder, it came to light from town hall email exchanges that the probe had something to do with the drop box program. District Attorney Sullivan wrote to Dodge on July 8, 2016, informing him of the suspension of the department from the DA’s drop-box service — a decision he linked to an open AG investigation and attributed to alleged improper handling of the drugs deposited in the box.

“The recommended protocols regarding the safe collection and securing of medications, by both an evidence officer and chief or appointed officer, do not appear to have been adhered to by you and your department,” Sullivan wrote at the time. “Furthermore, to protect the confidentiality of all citizens who dropped off these medications, the medication bottles were never to be directly inspected by any member of the police department.”

The Interview

State police from the AG’s office interviewed Dodge on the morning of Thursday, June 23, 2016. It was that evening that he was placed on leave by the Selectboard.

The nearly two-hour interview took place at Montague Town Hall. The town’s lawyer and the former town administrator were initially present along with officers from the state police.

When shown a copy of the interview summary, written by State Police Capt. Steven Fennessy, Dodge told the Recorder that he did not want to confirm the authenticity of the report, but confirmed the interview took place, while noting some discrepancies between his memory of the interview and the summary. He said he disputed the document’s characterization of some of his statements, but he did not dispute the majority of the contents of the summary.

For the interview, Dodge was left alone with the two state police investigators. According to the summary, the initial part of the interview was recorded and Dodge was given his Miranda warning.

“Dodge initially stated that he did not want to speak with officers but changed his mind and wanted to speak,” the document said. “He stated he was comfortable and that the officers treated him professionally. He requested that the recorder be turned off and he was reminded of the benefits of a recorded interview, however he re-stated that he wanted the recorder shut off and his request was granted.”

Dodge told the Recorder that he chose to waive his rights because he did not feel he had anything to hide, and knew he was innocent.

Dodge was told by the investigators about an issue with the drop box and he explained to them the process of emptying the box and storing the overflow in his office.

“When asked who had access to the drop box at his station, Chief Dodge stated that he has the only key to it and it was on a key ring with another duplicate key,” the document said. “He stated that he keeps the keys in another lock-box in his office, but that lock-box is not kept locked. He stated that he keeps his office locked.

“He stated that the drop box fills up quickly, describing it as a ‘busy box,’ and that he would have to empty the drop box. He stated that he moves the discarded prescription drugs from the drop box to a cardboard box when the drop box becomes full with discarded prescription drugs. He stated that he tapes the cardboard box and places the cardboard boxes in a closet within his office awaiting a time when the local Sheriff’s Office would come and pick up the cardboard boxes for incineration. He stated that the closet in his office is locked.”

Dodge also told the investigators about missing master keys for the building, something he discussed later in an email to Fennessy, implying others may have accessed the stored drugs.

“He stated that master keys may have been misplaced and anyone could have them,” the document said.

Dodge was asked a series of questions by the investigators, including if he came late at night to empty the box. He said he did not.

“When asked if he closed the door to his office while emptying the contents of the drop-box into the cardboard boxes, he stated that he sometimes may have closed his office door,” the document said.

The state police then told Dodge about the investigation and the placebo pills that came up missing during the sting.

“When asked why some of the pills would be missing from the pill bottles after we intercepted the county sheriffs in route to the incinerator, Chief Dodge stated that he would often see pill bottles that he believed to be OxyContin or some other addictive drug and empty the pill bottle into the box so the loose pills would fall to the bottom of the box,” the document said. “He stated that the reason he did this was to negate any temptation of others in the department … from opening the box and possibly seeing a bottle of pills and taking them.”

He said he wouldn’t search for those types of pills, but if he saw them at the top, he would empty them into the box. The interview summary said that Dodge acknowledged but could not provide a reason why he didn’t wear gloves when he would open the pill bottles.

In recovery

Dodge then told the two officers about his own addiction. He told investigators that he was prescribed Percocet, a brand of oxycodone opioid painkiller, for pain in his feet when he was a young patrol officer. He was later prescribed another form of oxycodone and said he then became addicted. He told the investigators he once stopped taking the oxycodone and thought he was having a panic attack and went to the doctor, where his dependence was diagnosed and he was prescribed Suboxone, a narcotic that can help control opioid addiction and prevent withdrawal. He gave the Recorder a similar account, but declined to say exactly how long ago he started the painkiller prescription.

Dodge, 46, has been in Montague for his entire law enforcement career. He started as a part-timer in 1992 and joined the staff full-time in 1993. The Selectboard offered Dodge the position of chief in November of 2012. He said he began the Suboxone treatments before his time as chief, but would not say whether he is still on medication-assisted treatment. Kuklewicz, the chairman of the Selectboard, did not comment on when the board knew about Dodge’s addiction and recovery, but did say that Dodge has always been open and transparent with the board.

Dodge told investigators he had been getting his Suboxone prescriptions filled in Barre to avoid having them filled locally where he might see someone he knows, according to the document.

Dodge told investigators that if he took an opioid on Suboxone, he would get sick, and that he could not drink alcohol on Suboxone.

Suboxone is a brand name for buprenorphine, which is both a partial agonist and a partial antagonist, so it simultaneously fills and blocks receptors in the brain, preventing withdrawal symptoms that a person would experience if he or she quit an opioid, according to Flora Sadri, the area medical director for Clean Slate, which runs addiction treatment centers in Greenfield as well as across the country.

“It attaches to the same receptors as other opioids and suppresses withdrawal symptoms and reduces cravings,” she said.

She said that unless someone consumed a large amount of an opioid on top of the Suboxone, they would not experience a high. She said that it would be difficult for a person to switch on and off Suboxone while substituting other opioids, because withdrawal symptoms, which could make a person sick, would start if they stopped taking the Suboxone. She also said that someone shouldn’t consume alcohol on Suboxone, because there could be interactions with the medication.

Patients can develop a physical dependence on Suboxone, which she explained is not the same thing as addiction. This also happens with less controversial medications for diabetes and blood pressure problems, where if you stop taking the medication your symptoms will return.

Sadri said that there’s a stigma associated with medication-assisted treatment like Suboxone, but that it should be considered a treatment of a chronic brain disease that requires medication just like other long-term illnesses.

“People tend to think you’re just swapping one drug for another, and it’s not that way,” she said.

Security in the department

In the days after the state police interview, Dodge emailed the AG investigator, elaborating on security concerns within the department, suggesting many people had the opportunity to steal drop box drugs.

According to records from the AG’s office, Dodge sent an email to lead investigator Fennessy offering more information about keys in the department to help with the investigation.

The current police station “was opened to us in August of 2009,” Dodge said in the email. “When we started moving in, all of the police department keys were left piled on a table in the conference room. All officers had access to the pile of keys and we all helped ourselves to any keys we needed. The keys remained piled on this table, on a counter near the table as well as in some drawers in this room until I became the Chief at the end of 2012. For three years any key was up for grabs.”

“Upon becoming Chief I started to sort through the keys and I quickly realized many keys to the building were missing, including the MASTER KEYS, that allowed access to all rooms,” Dodge said. “I sent out an email advising all (master) keys to be turned in but none were ever turned in. The MASTER KEYS remain at large.”

Dodge said that he also lost his personal key fob (which grants entry to the building) and his master key about four or five months before the interview.

“At the time I just figured they had been lost by me and would resurface at some point; however now I am suspecting someone may have actually taken them, which is why I can’t find them,” he said. “These keys can access my office and closet.”

Dodge also further explained his procedure around the drop box and its contents when stored in his office.

“When a Med Box bag fills up in my closet, I tie the bag and tape the box shut,” he said. “The box is then piled up against the wall in my office awaiting pickup from the Sheriff’s Dept.”

Dodge told the Recorder that he would either store the boxes in his closet, or near the door, if he would not be present when they were being picked up by the Sheriff’s Office.

Dodge said that boxes filled with the discarded prescriptions pile up over time.

“They are placed right by my open door so anyone walking by my office can clearly see that the boxes are piled there and the boxes remain there for 6-8 weeks sometimes,” Dodge said. “Thinking about this now, I realize that there are many occasions where there is nobody around to witness someone accessing my office after hours unbeknownst to me. Someone could have simply entered my office after normal business hours and helped themselves to these bags if they really wanted to. I have never checked a box to see if the tape had been pulled back because I never thought I had to. It was my belief that we are police officers and we would not act inappropriately.”

He said that when pressed by investigators, he offered different possibilities that may account for the theft. He said he wasn’t trying to pin the issue on any one person, but offering scenarios in which the drugs may have gone missing, because he was asked. He said he was never able to determine if any of the state police investigators looked for the missing pills at the bottom of the box.

After the interview

Dodge told the Recorder that after the investigation, additional locks in the department were changed, including on several offices. He also said the evidence room and records were secure and those locks are different than the master key.

Dodge also sent a revised drop-box policy to the selectmen. That policy was not approved by the District Attorney’s Office at that time. Despite the new policy, the DA’s office had removed the box shortly after the interview and suspended the department’s participation in the program and the anti-crime task force, pending the outcome of the AG’s investigation.

Now, about five months after the AG ended the probe without pressing charges, the DA has reinstated the drug drop box, and worked with the Montague Police Department to revise its policy in a way that removes any doubt about process and procedures for handling the drugs, according to the DA’s office.

Representatives from the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office said they had seen the interview document in which Dodge acknowledged his addiction when they decided to reinstate the drop box in Montague.

The box was reinstated last month, on Sept. 27, and the Selectboard approved the new drop box policy drafted by the DA’s office and Dodge the following Monday, Oct. 2. The policy formally removes Dodge from the process and ensures that any overflow from the box is treated as evidence and is weighed, measured, logged and packed with tamper-resistant evidence tape before being stored in the locked evidence room. Under the new policy, Dodge does not have a key to the box and there is a primary and secondary officer designated within the department to handle emptying the box.

DA commends Dodge

As a result of Recorder reporting on Dodge’s situation, District Attorney David Sullivan released a statement on Oct. 5 about Dodge, commending him for opening up about his opioid addiction and recovery. Sullivan is a founding member of the groundbreaking regional opioid task force.

“Chief Dodge’s experience is a stark reminder of the powerfully addictive nature of prescription pain medications,” the statement said. “Studies have shown that as many as one-quarter of patients receiving long-term opioid therapy in a primary care setting struggle with opioid addiction. This is precisely why programs like the Prescription Drug Take-Back Days, and the deployment of Med Drop Boxes throughout Hampshire and Franklin Counties, are so vital to stemming the opioid epidemic.”

Until Dodge spoke to the Recorder, representatives from the DA’s office had declined to comment on the state police interview summary.

Assistant District Attorney Steve Gagne did say that the DA’s office received the interview document with a packet of others from the Attorney General’s Office at the conclusion of the investigation.

“We are aware of the contents of that report. The entire set of materials that we received from the AG’s office ... we did take into account when revising and tightening up the med drop box policy,” he said.

DA anti-crime task force

The Anti-Crime Task Force, the other DA program that suspended Montague, has not yet made any public moves to reinstate the department.

The task force is governed by a group of Hampshire and Franklin county police chiefs and the two sheriffs. Greenfield, Belchertown, Amherst, Athol and Northampton are all members of the task force that each contribute one full-time police officer to the joint effort, and the governing body meets four times a year, according to the DA’s office.

Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Bucci said in an interview on Sept. 27 that for Montague to be reinstated, the governing board would have to vote, which it has not done yet. Bucci declined to comment when asked if the board has any plans to vote to reinstate Montague. The DA’s spokesperson added that even if a town doesn’t contribute an officer, that because the task force is under the direction of the DA’s office, the task force can operate within the entire two-county district, including Montague.

Dodge said he was focused on the return of the drop box, because it is the item that would offer the most immediate benefit to the community, and he said coordinating a possible meeting with the task force is something he will be looking into in the future.

To Dodge, the entire investigation and its focus on him is a reminder of the stigma associated with any opioid addiction. But he feels the medication drop box was useful to the community and it will be again, and it’s one of several ways he hopes his department will be able to help addicts, from all walks of life, through his deeper, personal perspective on the issue.

“They say things happen for a reason in life,” Dodge said. “I had no idea I was going to be the chief of police when all of this started. Then I found myself in the position with the ability to help people.”

Reach Miranda Davis at
413-772-0261, ext. 280
or mdavis@recorder.com.