‘This is not who we are’: Greenfield residents denounce city’s response to racial discrimination verdict

  • The Greenfield Police Station on High Street. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 5/19/2022 6:43:13 PM
Modified: 5/19/2022 6:41:28 PM

GREENFIELD — A significant portion of public comments at the City Council meeting Wednesday evening centered on a recent verdict that found the Greenfield Police Department racially discriminated against a former police officer.

“Tonight, we say, ‘Enough,’” Jon Magee told councilors at the John Zon Community Center, where City Council was expected to review the fiscal year 2023 operating budget. “We pay for the police. They act in our names. We have the power and responsibility to change them; cops should not and cannot lead that change.”

The verdict delivered May 6 found the Greenfield Police Department and Police Chief Robert Haigh Jr. discriminated against former Greenfield Police Officer Patrick Buchanan, the department’s only Black officer at the time, when he was denied a promotion. Buchanan was represented by attorneys Michael G. McDonough and Timothy J. Ryan. Greenfield and Haigh were represented by attorneys Erica Brody and Leonard Henry Kesten, and are reviewing the verdict.

Wednesday’s public comments followed an executive session of City Council on Monday night, during which councilors were expected to receive an update on the case and potential avenues forward. A day later, the lawyers for Police Lt. Todd Dodge, a lead witness who spoke on Buchanan’s behalf, filed a motion in opposition to a motion filed by the city’s lawyers to unseal an April 25 voir dire session conducted as part of the civil case against Haigh and the city.

Mayor Roxann Wedegartner wrote in her notice to Dodge that her decision to place him on leave comes in light of “allegations that include you recently made false allegations while under oath concerning Chief Haigh’s past conduct during testimony at the Hampshire County Superior Court.” In the notice, Dodge was instructed not to leave his home during normal working hours.

According to court records, Dodge was the only Greenfield police officer or employee to speak out against racism and testify on Buchanan’s behalf in the lawsuit. For that reason, Dodge’s lawyers have argued,  the city has acted in a retaliatory manner against Dodge following the verdict.

Dodge and Haigh were both placed on paid leave on the same day as the verdict.

Echoing the sentiment of many other residents Wednesday night, Wendy Goodman said it saddened her to know Greenfield has a reputation of being racist.

“Even more disheartening is that when such a discrimination comes to light in the courts and the jury recognizes such racist behavior, rather than acknowledge there’s a problem, our leadership chooses to deny,” Goodman said, referencing statements made by Wedegartner and Haigh on the day of the verdict.

“The most discouraging aspect of this case is the leadership — rather than seek to understand and improve — is seeking to deny the allegations, or … the reality we find ourselves in,” Goodman said.

A handful of residents called for the firing of Haigh and Police Sgt. Daniel McCarthy, who filed the original complaint regarding a traffic stop that led to Buchanan’s demotion in 2015. Several residents, acknowledging City Council’s inability to handle personnel matters, called for councilors to consider the issues in the department when they discuss the budget for fiscal year 2023.

Before adjourning, councilors voted to continue the meeting to Thursday at 6 p.m., leaving the Police Department and schools, among other departments, still to be discussed.

“Greenfield will not tolerate racial discrimination, particularly from the highest level of our city government,” Rachel Gordon told City Council. “I know that the council cannot decide anything now … but you can make budget decisions that are a reflection of our values.”

At least one resident asked city officials to consider an independent investigation of the Police Department.

“The policies and procedures — including disciplinary and promotion procedures — of the Greenfield Police Department must be completely reviewed by independent investigators, and the recommendations from that be reviewed and implemented,” said resident Susan Worgaftik. “The overhaul of this department must start at the top. … This is not simply about the Greenfield police. This is about who we are as a city and a community.”

Resident Dorothy McIver called upon the city to accept the verdict and “make sure we do not allow racism to continue in our Police Department.”

“This is not who we are,” she said. “This is not a good example.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.


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