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Former Weare lieutenant presses ‘gag order’ to state Supreme Court

Last modified: 12/12/2013 10:27:29 AM
The town of Weare dropped its investigation into complaints about a former police lieutenant after he retired – but the litigation surrounding his case isn’t over.

James Carney and his attorney, Tony Soltani, have appealed part of a superior court judge’s order to the state Supreme Court, still claiming the town has violated the 20-year department veteran’s constitutional rights and demanding sanctions against the town.

“They (the town) just decided, look, this guy is too much trouble and let’s get rid of him in a clever way,” Soltani said in an interview yesterday. “But it’s not going to work.”

The select board placed Carney on paid administrative leave March 5. According to a March 26 letter from the town that was provided to the Monitor by his attorney, Carney was the subject of an internal investigation into complaints of “a broad scope of inappropriate conduct.”

Those complaints included threatening statements or actions directed against department employees, transporting alcohol in a town vehicle, threatening physical harm to a confidential informant and maintaining an inappropriate intimate relationship with a department employee. The town also alleged Carney shared employee personnel information with subordinates and third parties and had off-duty physical altercations with civilians and police department employees.

That investigation was not a criminal one. While on paid leave, the town said Carney was not to contact the department except by email to then-Chief Gregory Begin.

In March, Begin also issued a memo to his staff informing them Carney was on administrative leave and should not be contacted by any member of the department.

Soltani said the town lied about the existence of that memo, leading to one issue in the lawsuit, while blocking Carney from attending union meetings and cutting him off from his friends.

Town attorney Laura Spector-Morgan said yesterday the memo was nothing out of the ordinary for the department.

“That order was issued,” Spector-Morgan said. “It’s standard operating procedure to make sure that the investigation is not tainted in any way.”

Carney retired from the department in July, Soltani said. Because the former lieutenant was no longer a town employee, Spector-Morgan said the investigation against him ended with no resolution at that point.

Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Richard McNamara dismissed the lawsuit in June and then denied Carney’s request to clarify that order last month.

Soltani filed an appeal last week, pressing the issue of that so-called “gag order” while the former lieutenant was under investigation, and claiming it violated Carney’s rights to free speech and assembly.

“To say that you cannot have any contact with him, that is not acceptable,” Soltani said. “Jim Carney has a right to speak to them, they have a right to speak to him. . . . It’s a question of how far the First Amendment rights extend.”

The Supreme Court has not formally accepted that case but will likely do so within three to six weeks.

Soltani and Carney did win a small victory last week – at the attorney’s request, the Department of Labor sent a letter to the town asking for a copy of Carney’s personnel file.

That file would include any record of disciplinary action or internal evaluation of Carney, who worked in the department for 20 years. But Spector-Morgan said the personnel file would not include any information from the investigation into the complaints against Carney.

“The investigation was stopped when he resigned, so as far as I know there is no report,” Spector-Morgan said.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)


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