Dozens gather at Greenfield City Hall as council enters executive session on racial discrimination verdict

  • City Council debates going into executive session at City Hall on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Mayor Roxann Wedegartner listens to City Council debate going into executive session at City Hall on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • City Council debates going into executive session at City Hall on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Demonstrators, including Montague resident Ali Wicks-Lim in the foreground, gather outside Greenfield City Hall Monday evening to protest the city’s handling of the recent court decision finding racial discrimination within the Greenfield Police Department. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • City Council debates going into executive session at City Hall on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Protesters leave the City Council meeting Monday night chanting “shame” as the room is cleared before the City Council goes into executive session. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Precinct 7 City Councilor Jasper Lapienski talks with demonstrators gathered outside Greenfield City Hall Monday evening to protest the city’s handling of the recent court decision finding racial discrimination within the Greenfield Police Department. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • City Councilor Dan Guin talks with demonstrators gathered outside Greenfield City Hall Monday evening to protest the city’s handling of the recent court decision finding racial discrimination within the Greenfield Police Department. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 5/17/2022 9:00:33 AM
Modified: 5/17/2022 8:58:45 AM

GREENFIELD — Community members gathered outside City Hall in protest in advance of a special City Council meeting Monday evening, during which the council intended to review the jury verdict in Hampshire County Superior Court that found the Greenfield Police Department racially discriminated against a former officer seeking a promotion.

“I read about the Buchanan case through the court documents,” said Montague resident Jeannette Wicks-Lim, standing outside City Hall on Monday. “For him to have a jury rule in his favor, that caught my attention. … I can’t stress enough how hard it is for an employee to get the jury to vote in their favor in an employee discrimination case.”

The verdict delivered May 6 found the Greenfield Police Department and 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.

As a result of the jury’s verdict, Buchanan was awarded $92,930 in lost back wages and $350,000 for emotional distress. He was not, however, awarded punitive damages.

According to the verdict, the “city of Greenfield discriminated against (Buchanan) because of his race in connection with the promotional process between September 2014 and October 2015.” The jury found Buchanan was not promoted in 2014 due to “racial animus.” The complaint against the city was first filed about five years ago in Hampshire County Superior Court by Buchanan and Police Lt. Todd Dodge, Buchanan’s lead witness.

On the same day of the verdict, Mayor Roxann Wedegartner placed Haigh and Dodge on paid leave.

Wicks-Lim said the details she read in the court documents were “appalling.”

“If you know the police department in your town is riddled with racist behavior, you’re going to feel unsafe,” she said.

According to court records, Buchanan’s lawyers submitted a motion seven weeks before the verdict to amend the original complaint to include a “constructive discharge claim” relating to Buchanan’s early retirement in November 2021 on the basis of discriminatory behavior that prevented him from continuing his employment until June 2025, when he would qualify for “full retirement benefits.”

In that motion, the lawyers described an environment in which the Greenfield Police Department treated white officers who “engaged in significantly more problematic behavior in a much friendlier manner.” That included Haigh’s treatment of Detective Todd Clark, who was never punished for allegations of drinking on the job, as well as Sgt. Dan McCarthy’s “reprimand” for stopping a young man who had previously been in a romantic relationship with his daughter and demanding to see the man’s phone and its contents, according to court documents. 

By comparison, in 2015, days after Buchanan was promoted to provisional sergeant, he completed a traffic stop involving a 19-year-old driver, to whom he issued a warning rather than a ticket.

The decision to do so ultimately  led to an internal affairs investigation, during which Haigh ordered Buchanan be placed on paid leave while the department investigated the complaint against him by McCarthy. By the end of the month, Haigh notified Buchanan in writing that as a result of the internal affairs investigation, he would be subject to a three-day unpaid suspension, demoted from his position as provisional sergeant and removed from his role as a field training officer.

The special City Council meeting Monday evening was requested by Wedegartner for the purpose of updating city councilors on the verdict. Councilors spent about 35 minutes debating the motion to enter executive session before voting 8-4 in favor.

“This was a very difficult decision for me,” said At-Large Councilor Penny Ricketts. “As a person of color, I felt like coming to this meeting was going to be a slap in the face to Officer Buchanan. I don’t want this meeting to be a sign that we agree with anything that might have happened in our administration.”

City Council Vice President Dan Guin, who chaired the meeting, emphasized the purpose of the executive session was not to vote or make any decisions on how to more forward, but for councilors to get all the relevant information.

“I’m a person that likes information, because I like to make educated decisions,” he said. “I also believe in communication, because that’s what I do. Perception is not reality. Information is reality. I cannot proceed without information.”

Precinct 9 Councilor Derek Helie and Precinct 1 Councilor Ed Jarvis agreed.

“I’m a man of information,” Helie said. “I need to hear what needs to be said to make good decisions. I never make up my mind based on hearsay or what I read in the paper.”

Some councilors, however, had some concerns with the perception of transparency.

“We all have to be clear that we have lawyers here who are the voice for the defendant,” Precinct 3 Councilor Virginia “Ginny” DeSorgher, who voted against entering executive session, referencing Haigh and the city. “I think it’s great that everyone says they want to hear everything, but I have concerns that that probably will not be — and I don’t know — what we hear.”

Precinct 8 Councilor Doug Mayo also argued against entering executive session, citing concerns raised by the protesters, in particular the request for the city to accept the verdict and address the issue of racism, rather than pursue any attempt to appeal the jury decision.

“This is clearly a confusing situation,” said At-Large Councilor Michael Terounzo. “I can see where certainly there’s perception of where this could go, and then also the need for information. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do, coming in here tonight, but I will say ultimately I feel comfortable enough with what people have spoken about in their feelings that were we to go into executive session, if it’s steering a way that it would violate Open Meeting Law, that we could kibosh it. I don’t think people would be not vocal about it at that point.”

Ultimately, Helie, Guin, Jarvis, Council President Sheila Gilmour, At-Large Councilor Philip Elmer, At-Large Councilor Christine Forgey, Ricketts and Terounzo voted “yes.” DeSorgher, Precinct 5 Councilor Marianne Bullock, Precinct 7 Councilor Jasper Lapienski and Mayo vote “no.”

Precinct 4 Councilor John Bottomley was absent.

As protesters filed out of the meeting room in City Hall, they held up the signs they had greeted councilors with on the way in and chanted “shame.”

“Behind closed doors (the mayor) can attempt to justify the unjustifiable,” said Ali Wicks-Lim, who had read the details of the case and wanted to be sure the city holds those involved accountable. “(We’re) asking City Council to stand with the people and the jury.”

Wendy Goodman, a member of the Human Rights Commission, said although nobody likes to be accused of what Haigh and the Police Department have been accused of, it should be an “opportunity to step up.”

“Greenfield has a reputation of being racist,” she said. “Now, what do we do?”

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


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