Released executive session recording shares details of police chief investigation

  • Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh Jr. in his office at the Police Station on High Street. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 9/23/2022 9:22:36 PM

GREENFIELD — During a recent City Council executive session scheduled to share information relating to an investigation that involved Police Chief Robert Haigh Jr., a press release announcing his imminent reinstatement — sent out before the end of the session — had some councilors unimpressed with the manner in which the evening unfolded.

“This is a completely uncouth way of going about it,” said At-Large Councilor Michael Terounzo, moments after it was made apparent to councilors they had received an email with the announcement from the mayor’s office. “To put out a press release in the middle of an executive session is dirty pool.”

In the press release, Mayor Roxann Wedegartner said the city ordered an independent investigation into a matter that “involved a conversation between Chief Haigh and the other party (later identified as Lt. Todd Dodge) on April 22 in the parking lot of Hampshire County Superior Court, which Chief Haigh interpreted as an attempt to circumvent court proceedings regarding a possible settlement” in the discrimination lawsuit filed by former Officer Patrick Buchanan. After the investigation, the mayor said there was “no credible evidence that Chief Haigh violated city policy” and “insufficient credible evidence” to determine if Dodge violated city policy.

The results of the investigation led to Wedegartner’s decision to reinstate the chief on Sept. 1 after four months on paid leave. Dodge, a lead witness in the trial who spoke on Buchanan’s behalf, had been reinstated in late May. Wedegartner told councilors that both officers’ paid leave was tied to this investigation, but that Dodge returned to service “for staffing purposes.”

“The information had to come out at a certain point in time,” the mayor said in response to councilors objecting to the timing of the press release. “The timing is what it is. … The outcome is ... my decision to reinstate the police chief. I was giving you this information as a courtesy.”

City Council voted Wednesday night to release all materials related to the executive session that took place remotely on Aug. 31. The meeting was held for the purpose of “hearing discussion of the reputation, character, physical condition or mental health, rather than professional competence, of an individual, or to discuss the discipline or dismissal of, or complaints or charges brought against, a public officer, employee, staff member or individual.”

Investigation findings

More specifically, Wedegartner called the Aug. 31 meeting to share with councilors the findings of the independent investigation into allegations that concerned both Haigh and Dodge. For the purpose of this executive session, however, the latter officer was referred to only as “Person A” so as to avoid a violation of Open Meeting Law. Wedegartner emphasized to councilors that the meeting was solely to review the findings of the report with respect to Haigh and whether he was in violation of city policy or the law.

Wedegartner reiterated that the investigation was related to a matter separate from the May 6 civil jury verdict that found Haigh and the Police Department had acted with “racial animus” toward Buchanan — the department’s only Black officer at the time — when he was denied a promotion in 2014.

“The city of Greenfield … will pay for (the independent investigation) through its legal account,” she said in response to a question from At-Large Councilor Christine Forgey. “It was ordered … based on a conversation that was had in a parking lot, outside of the court proceedings.”

That April 22 conversation, she explained, became the subject of a voir dire (a conversation happening outside earshot of the jury) meeting between the presiding judge, Haigh, Dodge and their respective attorneys. The transcript of that conversation, however, has been under seal by the court, despite efforts by lawyers representing Haigh and the city to unseal it.

“Two people testified under oath diametrically opposite things,” explained attorney Leonard Kesten, who is representing Haigh and the city. “They could not be reconciled, so one of them was not telling the truth.”

Councilors repeatedly questioned the mayor and lawyers about why the other involved parties weren’t invited to the meeting, nor were they allowed to name Dodge, despite the fact he is named in the investigative report.

“The purpose of this is to talk about the employment of Police Chief Haigh,” explained Chief of Staff Dani Letourneau. She said the report pertains to the reason for Haigh’s paid administrative leave, which he had been placed on since May 6.

The investigation — the first interviews for which took place the week of July 11 — was conducted by attorneys John Clifford and Daniel Williams of Clifford & Kenny LLP. Williams said the scope of the investigation was limited to the testimony provided during the discrimination lawsuit and included interviews with Haigh and his lawyers, written statements, and a review of court filings, departmental rules and regulations, and job descriptions.

Kesten said while a potential investigation was discussed within days of the April 22 parking lot conversation taking place, efforts didn’t formally begin until the day of the verdict, when he filed a motion to unseal the voir dire.

“I personally interviewed each person willing to participate,” said Williams. “As you can imagine, we really could not get two sides of the story. We could only get one.”

Still, Williams said, his findings concluded that Haigh was a “credible witness.”

“When I was talking with Chief Haigh, I want to stress he made very consistent statements throughout the course of the hour-plus interview,” he said. “Many of those statements were corroborated by the city’s attorneys, Lenny Kesten’s team and Chief Haigh’s own written statement. There really were no inconsistencies I could find.”

With the determination of Haigh’s credibility, there was “insufficient evidence” that he committed perjury, according to Williams.

Reinstatement

Precinct 5 Councilor Marianne Bullock confirmed with the mayor that this independent investigation, effectively, set the process in motion to reinstate the chief.

“I believe you made the best determination with the information you had before you,” Bullock said to Williams. “From my perspective, unless we have the unsealed document from the court, we can’t really know what happened.”

Some councilors, including City Council President Sheila Gilmour, asked if there was any consideration for a “power struggle” that may have influenced Dodge’s decision not to participate in the investigation.

“If an employee doesn’t participate, I’m entitled to draw a negative inference,” Williams said. “It’s a matter of law; I’m entitled to make that determination. There’s case law on it.”

Kesten added that Haigh and Dodge have been working together since the discrimination lawsuit was filed in 2017 and will have to continue working together, so it wasn’t necessarily inappropriate for the two officers to speak.

Not long after this line of questioning, at around 7:30 p.m. when Bullock asked if there was any more “courtesy information” that would be provided, councilors received an email announcing the chief’s reinstatement.

“At the end of the day, it is a personnel matter that is handled by the mayor and the chief of police and the other individual,” Wedegartner said, a sentiment echoed by Forgey earlier in the meeting. “What the bottom line of this report is … is there is currently no reason to keep Chief Haigh on leave at this time.”


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