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'Former officer sues police, town'

Last modified: 12/15/2010 12:00:00 AM
A former Weare police sergeant who said he was the subject of a bogus child pornography investigation by the police chief and a lieutenant has filed a lawsuit against them and the Weare selectmen.

Lou Chatel is demanding a jury trial and asking for financial compensation, alleging officials violated his civil rights, led him to be wrongfully terminated and forced him to file a whistle-blower complaint last summer. The suit was filed by his attorney, George 'Skip' Campbell, in U.S. District Court on Monday.

Chatel said he was subjected to retaliation by Lt. James Carney after they got into a dispute over the handling of a drug and counterfeit money case in October 2009. Chatel, who was the department's district court prosecutor, said Carney altered a police report in that case, according to court documents.

Carney and police Chief Gregory Begin later contacted the attorney general's office reporting that Chatel might have been manufacturing child pornography, according to the lawsuit. Chatel had brought home a police laptop computer last February that contained child porn images to prepare documents for an ongoing case, according to the suit.

In September, authorities cleared Chatel, saying he committed no wrongdoing. Chatel claims the investigation was a form of harassment, which led to 'severe anxiety with physical manifestations' that caused him to leave the department in May.

'As for Lou's career as a police officer, it appears that avenue has been foreclosed on him,' Campbell said. 'He's been pursuing other things . . . and re-training as an EMT, which was his career before he was a police officer.'

Chatel, who lives with his wife in New Ipswich, used up his medical leave benefits and was terminated July 29. His lawsuit said the town sent him a letter, also dated July 29, saying that if he could not return to work that same day that he would be fired.

Campbell has called the case 'the most shocking action taken by management against an employee that I've ever seen.'

Campbell said yesterday he has tried unsuccessfully to schedule a hearing with town and police officials on the original whistle-blower complaint Chatel filed with the state Department of Labor last August.

'The town has completely stonewalled us,' Campbell said. 'There's been no cooperation from the town, and it makes you wonder what they're hiding.'

Attorney Mark Broth, who represents the town of Weare, said it's not up to him to schedule a hearing on the whistle-blower complaint.

'It's up to the Department of Labor, and they haven't scheduled a hearing date yet,' Broth said. 'We're not stonewalling anything.'

Campbell said the town and police officials have not provided him with police reports or nonpublic selectmen meeting minutes pertaining to Chatel's complaint as requested.

'We've made discovery requests from the police department and the town, and we've received absolutely no response,' Campbell said. 'We needed to file the federal action at this early point because, this way, the town will not be able to stonewall us any longer.'

Broth defended Begin and Carney's reporting of the child pornography incident to the state. 'The purpose of an investigation is to determine whether or not something improper took place,' Broth said. 'Sometimes the investigation concludes that improper conduct took place, sometimes it does not.'

Phone messages left yesterday for Begin and Carney were not returned.

Tom Clow, chairman of the selectmen, said the town hasn't received a copy of the lawsuit yet. But he said he's not concerned with the leadership of Begin, an elected police chief. 'I have no worries about how the police department is being run. None whatsoever,' Clow said.

Chatel's lawsuit said that, despite never receiving any disciplinary action since joining the force in 2003, he was subjected to several write-ups by Carney after their dispute in October 2009. Chatel was written up for diverting a patrol officer from a paid detail to respond to a car crash and was also removed from his prosecutor position in March - at Begin's request - after serving two years, despite his being appointed to a five-year tenure, according to the lawsuit. Carney also ordered Chatel to address him by his full name and rank, and to write 'Lieutenant James Carney' without any abbreviations while addressing him in written correspondence, the suit says.

The October 2009 dispute occurred when Carney, Chatel's superior, removed paragraphs from a police report Chatel wrote regarding the drug and counterfeit money arrest of Dio Brown of Massachusetts, according to the lawsuit. Chatel, the police prosecutor, wrote that he intended to drop the charges due to lack of evidence. The paragraphs removed from Chatel's report implied Brown wasn't aware the counterfeit money was fake and that drugs he was charged with possessing likely belonged to his friend London Cohen, according to the suit.

According to Chatel's lawsuit, Carney called Chatel's cell phone the day of Brown's arraignment and said if the charges were dropped, 'We're going to have a problem.' About an hour later, Carney allegedly yelled and swore at Chatel at the police station, saying Chatel, '(expletive) up my case.'

Carney asked Chatel to alter the report earlier to 'make the officers look good,' court documents said.


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