Judge sides with chief on suspension

LITCHFIELD – The courts once again sided with Chief Joseph O’Brion and determined the selectmen had no reasonable cause to suspend him last July.

It’s the third time in three years O’Brion has sued the town following the actions of the board of selectmen. He said he hopes now the dissension is over.

“I just want to be able to work and get off on the right foot. Let’s stop wasting the taxpayers money,” he said. “I hope this is the end. I just want to run the police department.”

Selectman George Lambert, who voted in favor of the suspension, said the board would decide in the next few days whether it should appeal.

“We would always prefer that the judge saw it our way,” Lambert said. “I’m concerned that an appeal will be expensive. It appeared to be the best decision at the time, but we have to consider the judge’s decision.”

Ray Peeples was chairman of the board at the time of the suspension. He didn’t return a phone call seeking comment. Current chairman, Frank Byron, also didn’t return phone calls.

The board suspended O’Brion without pay for 15 days after it determined he violated the state’s Right-to-Know Law and department regulations by giving police reports to a local newspaper.

The reports detailed the arrest of Timothy Keddie, who later accused a police officer of brutality. Recently Keddie was indicted for threatening to rape the wife and children of Nashua District court Judge Thomas Bamberger when police arrested him on a warrant for failing to appear at a court hearing, according to court documents.

Hillsborough Superior Court Judge William Groff ruled that the board’s reasoning was flawed when it decided releasing the reports violated state law and town regulations because the reports did not deprive Keddie of a fair trial or invade his privacy, as the board said.

O’Brion was awarded his salary plus interest for the 15 days he was suspended and attorney’s fees, according to the ruling.

O’Brion said his pay for that period is about $4,500 and his legal fees could be as much as $30,000.

This is the third time O’Brion was successful fighting a board decision. In 2005, the board didn’t renew O’Brion’s one-year contract. He successfully sued to get his job back last year.

Later, the board tried to remove him from office by filing a petition alleging he had violated his oath of office. The court denied that petition.

Last year, the board slapped O’Brion with a vote of no confidence after he suspended two patrolmen involved in an after-hours prank at the fire station.

The board also voted to amend their police policy to give the board the power to discipline officers who break administrative rules, effectively reducing O’Brion’s role in disciplinary matters to an advisory one.

Groff referenced the history between the two sides in his latest decision.

“There was a mutual mistrust between them which affected all aspects of their interaction,” he wrote. “The court has considered this in assessing the conduct and the motivations of the parties, and their credibility.”

Following elections in March, O’Brion has met several times with the selectmen to talk about ways to work better together, including working on more than 100 recommendations in an audit of the police department conducted by Municipal Resources Inc.