Greenfield Human Rights Commission calls for termination of police chief, lieutenant

  • HAIGH

Staff Writer
Published: 5/24/2022 7:21:15 PM

GREENFIELD — Members of the Greenfield Human Rights Commission and the public called on the city’s police chief and a lieutenant to resign or be fired during a meeting Monday, with the board voting to draft a formal statement to the City Council and the mayor to that effect.

Chief Robert Haigh Jr. and Lt. Dan McCarthy are at the center of controversy after a Hampshire County Superior Court jury found on May 6 that the Greenfield Police Department racially discriminated against former Officer Patrick Buchanan when he sought a promotion. The jury awarded Buchanan $92,930 in lost back wages and $350,000 for emotional distress, saying Buchanan was not promoted in 2014 due to “racial animus.”

Haigh and Lt. Todd Dodge, a lead witness who spoke on Buchanan’s behalf, were later that day placed on paid administrative leave by Mayor Roxann Wedegartner, who insisted the information leading to the administrative leave is “totally unrelated” to the verdict.

Monday’s virtual meeting was held to discuss the litigation involving the city, Haigh and Buchanan. The commission voted unanimously to draft a statement declaring that members believe Haigh is no longer suitable to serve as chief due to human rights violations.

The statement, according to the vote, would also condemn Dodge’s treatment as well as Wedegartner’s original comments regarding the court case. Dodge has been instructed not to leave his home during his normal work hours so that he may be available to investigators.

Chair Daniel Cantor Yalowitz reminded attendees that the Human Rights Commission “is not an empowered decision-making body,” though it can conduct investigations and make recommendations to other boards, commissions and the mayor.

Calling in to the meeting, resident Molly Merrett wondered if the commission could make a recommendation to terminate Haigh and McCarthy, given that “this racial discrimination lawsuit has been brought before a court and Chief  Haigh has been found guilty of racial discrimination, and then other facts that came to light in the case” implicate McCarthy in racist behavior as well.

According to Buchanan’s complaint, he was appointed as a provisional sergeant on Jan. 13, 2015, after he and several other Greenfield police officers took a Civil Service promotional exam for the department’s two sergeant positions. Buchanan reportedly passed the exam and was the highest scorer within the department.

Days after Buchanan was promoted, however, he completed a traffic stop involving an 18-year-old driver, to whom he issued a warning rather than a ticket. Buchanan reportedly informed the driver that his traffic violations could have resulted in $185 in fines, and told the young man he should use some of that money “to buy something nice for his mother.”

Buchanan’s complaint states McCarthy heard about the traffic stop and left a letter for now-retired Lt. Joseph Burge, noting he had no issue with Buchanan’s decision to issue a warning until he learned this had been at least the fourth or fifth time Buchanan had handled a traffic stop in this manner. McCarthy was then named as the complainant in a formal Greenfield Police Department internal affairs complaint brought against Buchanan.

When reached on Tuesday, Haigh said he is “trying to allow the process to work itself out and be respectful to everyone involved.”

The Rev. Adele Smith-Penniman, a retired Unitarian Universalist minister, read to the commission a letter she sent to the Greenfield Recorder. In it, she writes that the mayor’s response demonstrates that she neither listens to a diverse constituency nor collaborates with town officials and employees.

“She doesn’t grasp that racism is pervasive in all American institutions,” she read. “No matter how well-intentioned European-Americans may be, change will never occur without that basic recognition.”

Resident John Bos said he wanted to underscore what Smith-Penniman said. He stated Smith-Penniman’s comments bring home the fact that racism is institutionalized and systemic, even in “blue Massachusetts.”

“I don’t quite know how to come to grips with it,” he said.

Resident Susan Worgaftik said the community needs to take responsibility for the actions of the people on its payroll. Worgaftik told the commission she hopes Haigh and McCarthy are “let go.”

“I think these are serious issues and I think they should be treated that way,” she said.

Human Rights Commission member Mpress Bennu mentioned McCarthy, who used to be the Police Department’s liaison to the commission, generated controversy about seven years ago for having a confederate flag hanging in his garage.

“The whole issue with Lt. McCarthy and the confederate flag and the situation with Officer Buchanan is racism. There’s no way to hide it. There’s no way to hide it,” Bennu said.

“If he didn’t hide (the flag), then why should we hide how we feel about it? We’re not happy with it. It’s not right and it’s not OK. And it’s about time that we as a community come together and stand up and say, ‘We’re not taking it anymore.’”

Reach Domenic Poli at dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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