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Weare lieutenant under investigation fights in court for more details about his accusers

A Weare police lieutenant was in court yesterday trying to force the town to divulge details about an ongoing internal investigation that led to his suspension in March. Lt. James Carney is currently on a paid administrative leave, and yesterday a town attorney told a Merrimack County Superior Court judge that officials have already been pretty clear about why.

The allegations against Carney, detailed in a March 26 letter sent to the lieutenant and provided to the Monitor by his lawyer, included threatening members of his staff, transporting alcohol in a town vehicle and having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a town employee.

Meanwhile, Chief Gregory Begin offered his retirement to the board of selectmen Monday, a decision he said is not connected to the investigation. Nonetheless, coming alongside Carney’s absence, the move could leave the department without its two most senior officers.

(The chief’s last day is May 31; a town official said they will appoint an interim replacement from outside of the department before that time.)

The selectmen placed Carney on paid administrative leave March 5, though Carney’s lawyer, Tony Soltani, contends that the events leading to the investigation began about 16 months before.

The town informed Carney of the investigation in a March 7 letter, then followed up with a more detailed description of the allegations against him in a letter dated March 26. In addition to the allegations of having a sexual relationship with a town employee and transporting alcohol in a town vehicle, Carney has been accused of:

∎ Failing to enforce the town’s sexual harassment policies.

∎ Threatening physical harm against a confidential informant.

∎ Sharing employee personnel information with subordinates and third parties and sharing internal investigation information with third parties.

∎ Coercing subordinates to support his appointment to a command staff position and retaliating against those who he understood did not support his appointment.

∎ Having off-duty physical altercations with civilians and police department employees.

The investigation is being conducted by attorney John Vinson of the Merrimack County Department of Corrections, according to the March 26 letter.

While on paid leave, Carney has been directed to have contact with the department only through emails sent to Begin. A memo circulated to police department staff March 7, and provided to the Monitor by Soltani, advised employees to have no contact with Carney without Begin’s approval.

Carney has been told to be available for work duties as needed during regular business hours but advised that those duties would involve clerical tasks that wouldn’t require him to enter the police station, according to one of the letters.

Carney, a 20-year veteran of the Weare Police Department, declined to comment at court yesterday. But Soltani called the accusations “all nonsense.” He said Carney is being retaliated against for lodging repeated complaints against other members of the department over the past 16 months on issues ranging from perjury to sexual harassment to falsification of police documents.

Soltani said Carney filed his last complaint with Begin, going to his supervisor as protocol directed him to, on the same day he was placed on leave.

“(The selectmen) did not want the dirty laundry to go out, and it was much easier to get rid of Carney,” Soltani said.

Carney took the town to court yesterday, arguing that the conditions of his paid administrative leave are unreasonable and that he hasn’t been provided adequate details about the accusations against him.

Judge Larry Smukler gave Soltani 22½ minutes to make that case, half of the 45-minute hearing. But when the judge pressed Soltani to be more specific with exactly what relief he was seeking, the attorney instead waded through a host of loosely related topics, ranging from Begin’s retirement to a separate investigation against Carney that he said is complete but whose files he said the town won’t hand over.

“Full-blown investigation,” Soltani said. “Done, over with, finished, finito, silon, neit. . . . I don’t know any other languages I can use, Turkish, Persian. Whatever you want to. But he’s entitled to the outcome.”

Smukler encouraged Soltani repeatedly to stay on topic. And by the end of Sotlani’s time the judge had listed several specific requests, including allowing Carney to have a lawyer present when being interviewed, letting him have contact with his colleagues at the police department and providing him with more specifics of the accusations against him.

Soltani said the 12-bullet list of grievances in the March 26 letter isn’t enough, and he cited another investigation when the town provided specifics such as the name of the person lodging the complaint, the date and what was said.

“This is a substantial departure from what they’ve been doing for 21 years,” Soltani said.

In responding to Carney’s motion, the town’s attorney, Laura Spector-Morgan, declined to address many of the complaints Soltani raised, saying the court doesn’t have jurisdiction over any of the issues. Instead, the matters should be addressed through a grievance filed with the union that represents police officers, the lawyer argued.

Spector-Morgan did object to giving more details about the investigation to Carney but provided the letters given to the town – which had sparked the probe – to the judge for review.

She said the letters would help the judge understand why Carney had been ordered to have no contact with his coworkers, and called that stipulation “standard” procedure during internal investigations.

“Given the nature of the complaints that have been made, there is a real concern of retaliation, and so that is one of the reasons that the no-contact order was given,” Spector-Morgan said.

Smukler didn’t issue an order at the end of yesterday’s hearing.

Office turnover

Begin has been the town’s police chief for eight years and is currently two years into a three-year elected term. He said yesterday that his decision to retire after 31 years in law enforcement has “absolutely nothing to do” with the turmoil within his department. And he declined to talk about the investigation against his second-in-command.

Begin said two other department employees – a prosecutor and a part-time officer – recently offered their resignations. While Soltani yesterday attempted to connect those resignations to the investigation against Carney, a town official denied any connection.

Thomas Clow, chairman of the board of selectmen, said he isn’t concerned about the amount of turnover in the small office of about a dozen employees. He said the board plans to work with Municipal Resources Inc., a consulting firm, to appoint an interim replacement for Begin.

That person will be a former police chief and will offer the stability the department needs during the transition, Clow said.

Clow said he couldn’t comment on when the investigation into Carney’s behavior will be complete because he’s not directly involved in it. But he said the person conducting it has already done several interviews with involved parties.

(Tricia L. Nadolny can be reached at 369-3306 or tnadolny@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @tricia_nadolny.)

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