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Weare rescinds firing of former discredited police sergeant Joseph Kelley

Last modified: 9/30/2014 12:31:11 AM
Joseph Kelley, the Weare police sergeant who oversaw a deadly and sharply criticized drug bust last year and who was fired months later for allegedly falsifying documents, can potentially return to the job, according to officials and a letter sent Friday by the town’s attorney.

Kelley has not officially been reinstated, but the attorney, Mark Broth, indicated in the letter that his firing last fall has been rescinded. Kelley was placed on medical leave shortly before the termination – for stress and anxiety related to the officer-involved shooting – and Broth said his employment record will reflect that his medical leave has continued ever since.

In addition, Broth wrote, “the Town will make Mr. Kelley whole for any and all wages and benefits to which he is entitled under the collective bargaining agreement. All references to his termination from employment will be removed from his personnel file.”

Benjamin King, an attorney representing Kelley, said Kelley will not receive full back pay because he has been on workers’ compensation since November. He said Kelley is, however, eligible to receive whatever additional money he would have earned had he been working.

Tom Clow, chairman of the Weare Board of Selectmen, declined to comment on the decision. He said Sunday that the board planned to meet with Broth last night, at which time Kelley’s name “may or may not” come up.

The town, which has struggled for months to rebuild the image of its beleaguered police force, is also dealing with domestic violence allegations against its police chief, John Velleca. Velleca, who was hired last fall and who requested Kelley’s termination in November, has been placed on paid administrative leave.

It’s not clear whether the timing of those claims played any part in the decision to rescind Kelley’s termination.

Broth’s letter was sent to King and Erin DeRenzis, assistant general counsel for AFSCME Council 93, which represents Weare police officers. In it, he states that the board continues to “expressly” deny any wrongdoing, and that its decision was made “to avoid the time, expense and inconvenience that arise from an arbitration hearing.”

That hearing, in which testimony would have been given and used to decide whether Kelley deserves reinstatement and back pay, was scheduled for Oct. 9. King said it could be canceled, pending resolution of some issues not fully addressed in Broth’s letter.

Kelley’s return would not be without conditions. Broth notes that, should he seek reinstatement, the police department will reopen an internal investigation into his conduct from the August 2013 shooting, which resulted in the death of an unarmed man.

The state has not charged the officers involved in that incident, including Officer Nicholas Nadeau, who fired the fatal shot. But in a report summarizing its eight-month investigation, the attorney general’s office condemned Kelley for a lack of leadership and an apparent unwillingness to cooperate with detectives.

In April, when the report was released, the Weare Police Department announced the launch of a separate internal investigation. The status and details of that have never been disclosed.

Kelley confirmed yesterday that he had been notified of the town’s decision, but he deferred all comment to King, who said they were both surprised by the move, as well as disappointed that it “isn’t without conditions.”

“Joe is pleased with the news, but he’s understandably wary,” King said, explaining that, to his knowledge, the board had received no new information about his client since hearing an initial appeal this spring. “We’re curious why the board did this about-face,” he said.

Kelley is eligible for reinstatement until May 3 – 18 months from the date he was placed on medical leave.

Kelley was fired Nov. 21 after internal investigations revealed a pattern of professional misconduct, including the falsification of time cards and other documents, a bad check and a request to a co-worker to lie about his health in order to obtain disability benefits.

Velleca has separately accused Kelley of stealing confidential documents from the department while he was an employee.

Kelley continues to dispute the claims. In June, he filed a lawsuit against the town, alleging that officials fired him after refusing to provide appropriate medical care in the wake of the shooting. That suit, still pending in federal court, claims that Kelley suffered from post-traumatic stress after the incident and was fired because of it.

Daniel Schwarz, an attorney representing the town in that civil case, said the board’s reversal could impact its outcome, depending on whether Kelley is eventually reinstated.

“Until we get some action from him, I can only speculate on what will happen with this case,” Schwarz said.

Broth said yesterday that he was not authorized to discuss personnel issues, and he deferred comment to the town.

“All I can say is . . . whether or not Kelley can and will be reinstated will be a function of his ability to resume the duties of his position,” Broth said, declining to give specifics.

Broth noted in the letter that the state Police Standards and Training Council would be notified of the rescission. A call and email to the council was not returned. DeRenzis, Kelley’s union attorney, also did not immediately return requests for comment.

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


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