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Domestic violence restraining order filed against Weare police chief

Last modified: 9/17/2014 12:31:50 AM
A female employee at the Weare Police Department has obtained a restraining order against newly appointed Chief John Velleca, stemming from an alleged domestic violence incident Thursday in Hillsboro.

Velleca, 45, was served with a 24-hour restraining order Saturday in Connecticut, where his wife and young daughter reside. Tom Clow, who chairs the Weare Board of Selectmen and who oversaw Velleca’s hiring last year during an especially tumultuous period for the department, said the board will meet tonight in a nonpublic session to decide whether to place Velleca on paid administrative leave, per his own request.

“Chief Velleca is aware of the court order,” Clow said in a statement. “While he denies any wrongdoing, he does not want to be a distraction from the ongoing efforts to remake and rebuild the Weare Police Department into an agency (in) which the community, the officers, and the entire law enforcement community can take pride.”

The assistant, Jennifer Posteraro, filed a petition yesterday afternoon, just before closing at Hillsboro’s district court, family division. The court said it could not release the contents of that petition until a judge reviewed it, which would likely happen after business hours.

Few details have been shared about the incident. According to a police log, the Hillsboro Police Department was contacted by officers in Weare at 9:37 p.m. on Thursday and asked to assist with a situation at an undisclosed residence in Hillsboro. Sgt. Nick Hodgen and Officer Chris Parsons responded to the call, according to the log.

Velleca was not arrested and has not been charged with a crime. Hillsboro police Chief David Roarick declined to comment further yesterday on what he called an open investigation, and referred all questions to the attorney general’s office.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young confirmed last night that her office was conducting a preliminary inquiry into the incident, and would use that to determine whether to open a broader criminal investigation.

“At this time we’re just trying to gather as much information as possible,” she said.

Posteraro’s attorney, Benjamin King of Concord, declined yesterday to comment on the details of her claims.

Clow said both Velleca and Posteraro have been out in recent days -- Velleca on vacation, Posteraro on sick leave. He also declined to comment on the accusations.

“Unfortunately there’s very little I can say,” Clow said yesterday afternoon, citing personnel matters and the ongoing investigation. “There hasn’t been any decision made because we don’t have all the information.”

A call to Velleca’s cell phone was not returned.

Posteraro was hired by the police department in January as a part-time records clerk. She became Velleca’s full-time assistant in May, earning a nearly $6 per hour raise.

Velleca was brought on in October, taking over an embattled department that had recently been plagued by lawsuits and a highly publicized state investigation into an officer-involved shooting in August. A former acting police chief in New Haven, Conn., he succeeded longtime Weare police Chief Gregory Begin, who retired early last year.

Velleca has, by many accounts, begun to turn things around at the department. Within months of arriving, he suspended all nonformal patrol practices, including undercover drug operations and the use of heavy weapons. He had surveillance cameras installed at the department, issued body cameras to all patrol officers and publicized a general shift toward accountability.

“I’m a big believer in transparency, and to be honest, that’s not something I see right now,” he said when appointed last year. “And that will definitely change.”

Velleca has also reduced overtime and private detail work at the department, in part by hiring several new officers, a deputy chief and legal counsel. And he has rebranded the department as a whole, issuing a new logo and motto, and overseeing the launch of a streamlined website.

“Since joining the Weare Police Department in November 2013, Chief Velleca has made great strides in redefining the culture of the organization,” Clow said in last night’s statement.

Though his wife and daughter still live in Connecticut, Velleca has previously said they see each other on weekends.

Velleca retired from New Haven in 2011, after nearly 20 years on the force. He arrived in Weare with some legal baggage, including three federal lawsuits, which alleged discrimination, harassment and disparate treatment of minority and female officers. Velleca noted last year that litigation is difficult to avoid for any supervising officer.

In November, Velleca fired longtime Sgt. Joe Kelley, citing internal investigations that revealed widespread misconduct, including the falsification of time cards and other documents. Kelley has since sued Velleca and the town, claiming they fired him after refusing to provide appropriate medical care in the wake of the shooting last August, which Kelley oversaw and which resulted in the death of an unarmed man.

That suit alleged that Velleca responded to Kelley’s lingering trauma with “skepticism and scorn.” Velleca has broadly disputed those accusations.

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

(Correction: An earlier version misstated Chief Velleca’s current employment status. He is out on vacation, not administrative leave. The Board of Selectmen will meet tonight to determine whether to place him on paid leave, pending the state’s investigation.)


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