Jury finds Greenfield PD discriminated against former officer

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 05-06-2022 6:05 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A special jury in Hampshire County Superior Court Friday found the Greenfield Police Department racially discriminated against a former police officer seeking a promotion.

The verdict delivered Friday morning 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 that point, 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.

“Mr. Buchanan appreciates the hard work the jury did and is gratified someone sees it the same way he did,” Ryan said by phone. “We appreciate the hard work. These are never easy trials and I think the jury was fairly clear that they viewed this was racially motivated from the get-go.”

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.”

Reached by phone Friday afternoon, Haigh said he believes “quite honestly, from the bottom of my heart and soul,” that he did not discriminate against Buchanan and he has “trust that things will be made right over time.”

“As the leader of the Greenfield Police Department, I get all the accolades when things are going well and I also have to accept responsibility when things don’t go well, and that’s what I’m doing,” Haigh said. “I do believe that at the end of the day when this is re-evaluated, re-tried and re-looked at, that I will be exonerated of these horrific allegations.”

While the incidents happened during former Mayor William Martin’s administration, current Mayor Roxann Wedegartner said she is “confident” Haigh acted “professionally at all times.”

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“As to the findings regarding Patrick Buchanan,” Wedegartner said by phone, “I’m confident that at the end of the process, Chief Haigh will be completely exonerated.”

Wedegartner said she will need to “sit a little while with the facts.”

“It’s fresh information for me,” she said. “I need to look at it myself, along with the attorneys.”

According to the complaint filed by Buchanan, 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.

However, days after Buchanan was promoted, 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 alleges Sgt. Daniel McCarthy, who was the department’s liaison to Greenfield’s Human Rights Commission, heard about the traffic stop and left a letter for Lt. Joseph Burge, who is now retired, 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 the officer had handled a traffic stop this way.

McCarthy was then named as the complainant in a formal Greenfield Police Department internal affairs complaint brought against Buchanan. According to the complaint, the Police Department’s rules with respect to internal affairs state that the criteria for determining the categories of complaints to be investigated include allegations of corruption, brutality, use of excessive force, violation of civil rights, criminal misconduct and any other matter as directed by the police chief.

On Jan. 21, 2015, Haigh ordered that Buchanan be placed on paid leave while the department investigated the complaint brought 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. He was also instructed to participate in a conflict of interest training program.

In late 2020, Greenfield announced three openings for promotion to sergeant, in which 10 officers applied for the promotion. During this process, Haigh allegedly scored Buchanan so low to “ensure that Buchanan had an overall ranking of fifth and as such was not in contention” for the position, according to the lawsuit.

The verdict states the jury subsequently found Greenfield and Haigh “discriminated against (Buchanan) or retaliated against him in connection with the 2020-2021 sergeant’s promotional process.”

Haigh said he is “very proud” of the work he has done with the Greenfield Police Department and that he will “trust in the system that things will be found lawful and right.”

“I’m sorry this has come to my department and the people who work for me. … I’m exceptionally proud to be chief of this department and the people that are working hard every single day,” Haigh said. “This is not what the Greenfield Police Department stands for and I hope they know that. And I hope the community knows that.”

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

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