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Judge: Webster police chief will not return to work while he sues town

  • Webster resident Henry Bouchard (right) chats with the town’s police chief, Ben Liberatore. Monitor file



Monitor staff
Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Benedict Liberatore will not return to his job as police chief of the town of Webster as long as his lawsuit against the town is ongoing.

Liberatore, who sued the town claiming the Webster select board tried to force him to resign by placing him on unpaid administrative leave, was denied his request to return to work by a Merrimack County Superior Court judge last month.

“There is no evidence that the select board adopted or issued policies that had an improper purpose or that exceeded its authority,” Judge John Kissinger wrote in December.

Liberatore was placed on unpaid administrative leave Sept. 27 after working for the town less than one year. The select board said that Liberatore, who is a retired Connecticut state trooper, failed to follow several stipulations of his Oct. 17, 2016, conditional hiring agreement, one of which was that he obtain his New Hampshire Police Standards and Training certification.

Without the Standards and Training certification, Liberatore would not be informed in New Hampshire law or be qualified to work patrol shifts by himself, according to the Police Standards and Training office.

Liberatore’s contract stipulated that he complete the training within six months of starting his position in Webster. Liberatore was placed on administrative leave 11 months into his employment, still not having obtained the certification.

Liberatore failed to complete the first step of the certification process when he didn’t take the required fitness test after being scheduled to do so twice – once on April 17, when he was recovering from knee surgery, and again on Aug. 14, due to high blood pressure, according to court records.

The Webster select board requested an extension from the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council for Liberatore in April. But when Liberatore failed to take his test during the rescheduled time in August, the select board informed Liberatore that another extension was “unlikely to be forthcoming.”

Liberatore said that statement came out of the blue for him, because he received an email in October 2016 from Webster select board Chairman Bruce Johnson saying that he could have up to two-and-a-half years to complete his certification, per Police Standards and Training regulations. The town of Webster’s lawyer, Bart Mayer, argued that Johnson cannot speak for the select board as a whole and that an email cannot be interpreted as an amendment to Liberatore’s original contract.

The select board also said that Liberatore violated a number of other town policies, including not establishing residence within Webster and not following a work-hours policy instructing town police chiefs to schedule only one on-duty officer at a time in order to maximize coverage. These policies are long-standing, Mayer argued, and the chief should have been aware of them during his tenure.

Mayer said the town made several attempts to let Liberatore know he was violating said policies through letters before placing him on administrative leave in September.

Mayer filed a motion requesting that a judge decide whether the case will go to trial on Dec. 26. Liberatore’s attorneys have 30 days from that date to respond.

Liberatore’s time with the town of Webster has been rocky. During a July select board meeting, Liberatore read a statement saying the board had been “micromanaging, scrutinizing, singling out and trying to run the police department,” since his first day on the job. He claimed he had endured “repeated harassment, defamation of character,” that had caused a “hostile work environment” that made it impossible for him to perform his duties.

(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3322, lwillingham@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @LeahMWillingham.).