Leyden board opts not to reappoint police sgt. on chief’s input; residents express support for officer after vote

  • The Leyden Police Station, located behind Town Hall. Staff File Photo/Shelby Ashline

  • GALVIS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/17/2021 5:01:15 PM

LEYDEN — The Selectboard’s decision to not reappoint a police sergeant who has been with the Police Department for 13 years was met with an outcry by residents who attended a Sept. 7 meeting in support of the officer.

Sgt. Tina Riddell was not reappointed on the recommendation of Chief Dan Galvis during that meeting, which was continued in public from an executive session on July 20.

According to Leyden’s legal counsel, Donna MacNicol, it was Riddell’s right to make the choice to continue in open session. During this month’s meeting, Riddell voiced grievances with Galvis’ decision not to recommend her for reappointment, and raised questions over the chief’s own professional conduct.

Galvis said he did not recommend Riddell’s reappointment based on six incidents he cited that occurred between May 29 and July 1.

The Leyden Police Department has seven part-time officers, including the chief and his wife, Capt. Gilda Galvis.

After a lengthy discussion and extended comment from the roughly two dozen residents in attendance on Sept. 7, Selectboard members Jeffrey Neipp and Bill Glabach voted against member Erica Jensen’s motion to reappoint Riddell.

Glabach and Neipp said they felt the relationship between Riddell and Galvis could not be mended. They also said they were concerned by the contents of six incident reports the chief cited. These reports were discussed at length in the July executive session, according to Riddell’s attorney, Michael McHale.

“I’m disappointed in the outcome, and that the Selectboard didn’t take into consideration that Tina is the only certified EMT on the police force, and the only woman on the police force — excluding Gilda,” Jensen told the Greenfield Recorder after the meeting. “We’ve lost an integral person for community policing.”

Mediation

McHale said he met with the Selectboard, Galvis and Riddell in executive session for more than four hours on July 20 and discussed six incident reports the chief filed between May 29 and July 1.

McHale said the session concluded with “an absolute promise” that Galvis and Riddell would attend mediation. However, he was later told that Galvis was no longer willing to move forward with this resolution, and they would need to reconvene.

When asked why he chose not to follow through with mediation, Galvis told the Recorder he “didn’t see any point in wasting time” and “didn’t see any resolution that would work.”

At the Sept. 7 meeting, Riddell aired grievances against the chief, saying that after she chose to seek part-time employment as an officer with the Winchester (N.H.) Police Department in August 2020, and after informing Galvis of this decision on Oct. 11, 2020, she was removed from the department’s schedule between Oct. 12 and January 2021.

Galvis and Neipp said Riddell did not follow policy by asking Neipp if she could pursue part-time employment before speaking with the chief.

McHale and Riddell allege that Galvis’ motives for filing the reports and removing her from the schedule was in response to her seeking employment from another department. Galvis, however, has stated he did not recommend Riddell’s reappointment because he “has lost all confidence that she can effectively do the job” based on those six incidents.

MacNicol, Leyden’s legal counsel, explained that while Galvis is under the Strong Chief Law, he does not have the right to hire, fire or take disciplinary action against officers. That is up to the Selectboard. However, MacNicol said he does have the right to not place officers on the schedule, as well as the right to not place an officer on the list for reappointment.

While Riddell may not have been on the schedule as an officer, McHale said she was cleared to respond to medical calls, which she did during July and August. However, Riddell said she is still waiting on payment related to these responses.

After initially being removed from the officer schedule in October 2020, Riddell was placed back on duty in January 2021. During her time from January to July, Riddell said her relationship with Galvis did not improve.

Galvis said he removed her from the schedule again this July while he investigated the six incident reports.

Riddell works as a teacher for Ralph C. Mahar Regional School and as the girls soccer coach for Greenfield High School. She expressed concern that the lasting pandemic and potential changes to her employment schedule would have a negative impact on her ability to earn an income. She said she sought part-time employment with the Winchester Police Department to further secure income opportunities.

Supporters

Many residents spoke in favor of Riddell’s history of “community policing” before the vote was taken on Sept. 7.

Finance Committee Chair Ginger Robinson said Riddell is “the first officer I’ve known in my life that I’ve trusted.”

Multiple residents voiced similar testimonies, saying Riddell has taken the time to know their families and young children by name to build trust with an officer amid growing national tensions between communities and their police.

David Curtis, a Planning Board member, said Riddell’s absence was noticeable last fall and this summer, and he asked several neighbors, “Where’s Tina?” before catching word of the September meeting.

Other residents raised concerns with her being removed from the force as she is one of only two EMTs certified to respond to emergency medical calls or accidents with injuries in town.

“She is what I think community policing should be,” said resident Vicky Baker. “It would be a shame to lose her, and you’ll probably never replace her.”

Members of the public, as well as Selectboard member Jensen, argued that Galvis’ intent and choice to remove Riddell from the schedule, which affects her ability to earn an income, could be considered punitive.

“It’s a gray area, but if you’re risking someone’s ability to earn a living … restricting that income can be considered a form of punishment. I do believe Galvis took every opportunity to punish Tina in that way,” Jensen told the Recorder. “There’s a difference between logic and law, yes. But I don’t think that restricting someone’s details is not punishment.”

Incident reports

McHale questioned the validity of some of the incident reports discussed in July, and said “even if everything in the reports were true, they are not particularly serious or ethical violations, and it’s not something you would typically fire a long-time officer over.” According to McHale, the Selectboard took most concern with the first two of the six reports filed against Riddell.

He said the Selectboard, specifically members Neipp and Glabach, as well as Galvis, referred to the events of a motor vehicle stop in this first report as a “high-speed chase” on May 29. Glabach and Neipp said they have always discouraged pursuits by officers on Leyden’s winding, residential roads. The report states the highest speed reached in the pursuit was 54 mph, after the driver — a Vermont resident driving a rental vehicle with Georgia plates — failed to stop for Riddell’s signals to pull over for speeding. The driver initially pulled over, but then continued moving, according to Riddell’s report.

She then drove around the vehicle and blocked the driver’s path. Galvis said this act of “heading off” the driver was a violation of policy as the technique “may only be utilized when there is a determination that the pursued vehicle must be immediately stopped because the driver or occupants of the vehicle pose a clear and immediate threat to the public or other occupants of the pursued vehicle.”

Galvis said Riddell, upon the initial stop, would have the plate number of the vehicle and could have issued a summons based on the information provided, or continued to follow the vehicle until it stopped or crossed into Vermont. At this point, she could have notified Vermont police to look out for the vehicle.

A second incident report relates to a May 22 event where Riddell stopped a vehicle for an inspection sticker violation. The report includes a letter from the woman who was stopped, stating that upon realizing she had been dating a friend of Riddell’s, the officer turned off her video camera and allowed her to leave without a citation. She then alleges that Riddell later learned the driver was no longer dating her friend, and sent a citation in the mail for the inspection sticker two days later.

In investigating the incident, Galvis said the video from the stop was turned off, which lends credibility to the woman’s testimony. He also said the citation, which was written with the date of the May 22 incident, should have been delivered in hand at that time.

Galvis referred to the “No-Fix Law,” Massachusetts General Law Chapter 90C Section 2, which states “with few exceptions,” requires that the police must give traffic tickets in-hand at the time and place that a driver is stopped.

“These violations happen all the time, and usually result in a chat with the officer and review of policy,” McHale argued. “Clearly, they’re trying to make it a larger issue than any other department would have.”

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.




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