Judge denies Greenfield’s request for sealed testimony in Buchanan case

  • WEDEGARTNER

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

Staff Writer
Published: 5/25/2022 10:03:50 PM

GREENFIELD — After Judge Mark D. Mason denied the city’s request for the sealed testimony of police Lt. Todd Dodge, Mayor Roxann Wedegartner said the city’s attorney will refile the motion to have the recording released, while both Dodge and Police Chief Robert Haigh Jr. remain on paid administrative leave amid a city-led investigation.

Wedegartner said the contents of the recording are essential in the investigation being conducted into Dodge for what she wrote were “false allegations while under oath,” in a May 6 letter informing the lieutenant he was being placed on paid administrative leave. Both Dodge and Haigh were put on leave immediately following a Hampshire County Superior Court jury verdict finding the Greenfield Police Department and Haigh racially discriminated against Patrick Buchanan, the department’s only Black officer, years earlier, when he was denied a promotion. Dodge was a lead witness on Buchanan’s behalf.

“It’s very important to our investigation of the situation that caused me to put both Chief Haigh and Todd Dodge on paid leave of absence,” Wedegartner said by phone. “I can’t move forward with changing their status one way or another until we have finished the investigation.”

The city requested Judge Mark D. Mason release an April 25 voir dire, or witness examination, conducted as part of the civil case against Haigh and the city. Dodge and his attorneys filed a motion in opposition of the request, which Mason ruled in favor of.

“The April 22, 2022 voir dire of Haigh and Buchanan was sealed at the defendants’ [the city’s] request, with the agreement of the plaintiffs. In requesting access to the recording of the voir dire, the defendants have not asserted any interest that would be served by disclosure,” Mason wrote in a May 24 court filing. “I have considered all relevant factors. … Balancing the rights of the parties based on the record before me, I conclude that Dodge has demonstrated the existence of good cause for denial of the defendants’ request to obtain the recording of the April 25, 2022 voir dire hearing.”

Wedegartner said the city intends to bring in an independent investigator, but did not disclose who it was because negotiations are ongoing.

As part of the conditions of his paid leave, Dodge is “required to be at (his) home during the normal hours of (his) assigned shift and to be available for consultation with members of this department who have been assigned to investigate the above referenced allegations,” according to the May 6 letter filed in court documents.

The mayor said Haigh is not under the same leave conditions, but declined to give the terms because it is a “personnel matter,” which has to remain confidential.

In a court filing, Attorney Michael McDonough called the conditions of Dodge’s paid leave “house arrest” and stated the city does not have the right to require him to remain at home.

“The city has no legal right to require that Lieutenant Dodge remain on ‘house arrest’ during his normal shift times,” McDonough wrote, “as he is available at all times of the day via cellular telephone and electronic mail.”

Wedegartner said the conditions on Dodge’s leave are “regular practice within the public safety departments” because it ensures he is “available” for investigators.

Attorney Michael Aleo, a lawyer with Northampton-based Lesser Newman Aleo & Nassar, said, from an outside perspective, it is uncommon for an employee to be required to stay home on paid leave.

Aleo’s practice includes extensive civil litigation and employment and labor law experience, including time on the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights in Boston, where he represented victims of race and national origin discrimination.

“It is common for a municipality to place an employee on paid administrative leave pending an investigation, but, from my experience, it is not common to limit the employee’s movement during that period of time by requiring them to remain in their home,” Aleo said in a written statement.

“Unless the city is able to point to a compelling reason to justify this directive, the home confinement could be considered as further evidence of retaliation against the employee for engaging in protected activity.”

Attorney Tim Ryan, who is one of two lawyers representing Dodge and Buchanan, said putting Dodge on paid leave is “just a further form of retaliation and punishment” by the city, as it tries to “micromanage and scrutinize” the testimony given by Dodge.

“It’s an inherent conflict of interest for the mayor, for the chief, for the defense counsel to go down this road,” Ryan said, adding the two investigations against Buchanan were found to be flawed. “The jury found the two investigations … were discriminatory, so now we’re going to go three-for-three?

“I don’t get the sense that he was suspended because he was under investigation,” Ryan said. “What charges have been brought against the chief because the jury found the chief engaged in actions that violated Massachusetts law?”

As the city waits for attorney Leonard Kesten to refile a motion to release Dodge’s testimony, community members are continuing to express concerns following the jury’s verdict. Dozens of residents protested outside City Hall before a special City Council meeting convened on May 16 to discuss the verdict.

This protest was followed by a significant portion of the May 18 City Council meeting’s public comment period being taken up by residents airing their perspectives about the verdict. This week, the city’s Human Rights Commission unanimously approved a motion to draft a letter to Wedegartner requesting Haigh be removed from his position and Dodge be reinstated.

“Based on the verdict of guilty in this case, we recommend to you that Chief of Police Robert Haigh be removed from his leadership role as chief of police in Greenfield,” the commission wrote in a letter addressed to Wedegartner, which was also sent to City Council and the Greenfield Recorder.

“We recommend that Police Officer Todd Dodge be released immediately from the ‘house arrest.’ … We further ask that he be reinstated to his current role at full pay immediately.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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