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Former Weare police sergeant files wrongful termination suit, cites PTSD, anxiety from August shooting

Last modified: 6/3/2014 11:10:59 AM
Former Weare police sergeant Joe Kelley has filed suit against the town, alleging officials there fired him after refusing to provide appropriate medical care in the wake of a horrific police shooting that he supervised and which resulted in the death of an unarmed man.

The complaint, filed yesterday in Hillsborough Superior Court by attorney Benjamin King, contends that Kelley suffered anxiety and post-traumatic stress from the Aug. 14 shooting, that the town failed to accommodate him accordingly in the months that followed and that it fired him because of the disability.

Kelley was fired Nov. 21 after internal investigations revealed blatant misconduct, including the falsification of time cards and other documents, a bad check and a request to a co-worker Nov. 3 to lie about his health in order to obtain workers’ compensation and disability benefits, according to a copy of his termination letter. He had been with the department since 2006.

The suit flatly refutes the time-card allegations, saying Kelley “never reported as hours worked time that he spent attending law school, nor did Sergeant Kelley submit any false time records.” It also denies that he ever lied about his medical condition, and claims he was fired without adequate notice.

The suit makes no apparent mention of a bad check allegedly issued Sept. 27 to the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Seminar.

An eight-month state investigation into the August shooting, at Lanctot’s Plaza on Route 114, could not determine whether the officer who fired the fatal bullet, Officer Nicholas Nadeau, was justified. A report summarizing the investigation was highly critical of Kelley’s leadership during and prior to the incident, and of his apparent unwillingness to cooperate with detectives during the inquiry.

According to the suit, Kelley “experienced feelings of horror and shock while the incident unfolded, with bullets flying,” and in the months that followed, his symptoms only intensified.

Kelley “suffered nightmares and flashbacks to the shooting,” the suit contends. “He would suffer bouts of uncontrollable crying, and on one occasion was reduced to crouching in tears behind his desk at the Police Department.”

The suit claims Kelley called Chief John Velleca on Nov. 3 to report an especially bad case of anxiety. “Chief Velleca reacted with skepticism and scorn, telling Sergeant Kelley words to the effect, ‘Using up our sick time, I see,’ ” it said.

“Given that Sergeant Kelley had over 200 hours of sick time accumulated when he notified Chief Velleca of his need to leave early because of his anxiety symptoms, the chief’s sardonic comment was not only cruelly disrespectful to the needs of an officer in distress – the comment made no sense.”

Reached yesterday afternoon, Velleca said he had not yet read the suit and could not comment on the substance of it. But in an emailed statement, he said, “Outlandish litigation is a normality after malfeasant, incompetent employees are fired.”

Tom Clow, chairman of the Weare Board of Selectmen, which issued the termination, could not be reached for comment. A voice message and email to him were not immediately returned.

Kelley, a resident of Deerfield, is seeking damages and back pay, as well as his position reinstated, according to the suit.

In a separate filing yesterday to the state Supreme Court, Velleca claimed Kelley had illegally stolen confidential documents from the department while he was employed by the town, and that King had acted criminally by receiving them knowing they had been stolen. Velleca wrote that his predecessor, interim police Chief Mike French, warned him when he first took office at the beginning of November that Kelley had been “removing confidential documents” from the chief’s office.

The documents included officer statements related to litigation against the town, department time sheets and a notebook from recently retired police chief Gregory Begin.

Velleca said in the complaint that he confronted Kelley about the materials during a meeting Feb. 18, and that Kelley replied that “he was planning on bringing this material to ‘the media’ in an attempt to discredit the officers who assisted in the investigation that led to his termination.”

Included in Velleca’s filing is what appears to be an internal report drafted by Kelley last spring related to alleged complaints against acting Officer Kim McSweeney. The report documents an investigation into complaints from other officers that McSweeney was routinely leaving her post late at night to go home and sleep. Kelley wrote in the report, which King sent to Velleca on April 11, that McSweeney had in fact left on occasion, but that she “should be given a second chance.”

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)


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