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Weare police Chief John Velleca offers resignation; AG releases report on assault accusations

Last modified: 10/17/2014 1:11:01 AM
Weare police Chief John Velleca has moved to resign amid claims that he assaulted his secretary and brief romantic partner, despite an announcement yesterday by the state that there is no clear evidence of criminal wrongdoing. The findings nevertheless reveal a new and potentially malicious act: Velleca took the secretary’s phone to an Apple store in Nashua and had its memory wiped clean.

Velleca submitted a resignation letter to the town yesterday afternoon. Tom Clow, selectmen chairman, said the board will meet Monday and decide then whether to accept it. Clow said resignation “seems like something that is probably best for John’s family and for the town in the long run, although the changes he made while here were incredibly positive.”

The announcement came shortly after the attorney general’s office released a seven-page report detailing its investigation into the allegations, which were brought in a restraining order petition last month by the secretary, Jennifer Posteraro. Posteraro claimed that Velleca arrived unannounced at her home in Hillsboro on Sept. 11 and pushed her to the ground twice as she tried to stop him from taking her department-issued cell phone, which she said contained evidence of a brief sexual affair.

State investigators said yesterday they lacked enough evidence to prove Velleca assaulted Posteraro, or that he later tampered with evidence by having her cell phone’s memory wiped. But they noted that he initially denied the affair to a Hillsboro police officer, despite later admitting to it, and made other questionable statements.

“Given the inconsistencies in Velleca’s responses to this office during this investigation in comparison to the statements of other witnesses, and his admitted denial of the affair to law enforcement officers, this office has significant concerns regarding Velleca’s credibility,” the report concluded.

Velleca, who is married and has a young child, has been on paid administrative leave since the restraining order was granted. He was hired last year during an especially turbulent time for the department, following a sharply criticized officer-involved shooting in August that led to the death of an unarmed drug suspect.

Velleca has denied assaulting Posteraro, and he told investigators that she slipped twice as he was getting into his car. He claimed Posteraro seemed impaired at the time and could barely walk, that she was not wearing shoes, and that the grass outside her house was wet, according to the report.

Conflicting accounts

The report said the state would have had trouble proving the assault because Posteraro gave investigators conflicting accounts of the incident from what she had initially reported. “In fact, Posteraro when questioned by this office stated, ‘You know, he just, kind of, like, shoved into me. It wasn’t, it wasn’t. Like, I don’t want it to be, like, he threw me to the ground,’ ” the report said. “Later, she explained that Velleca did not push her with his hands and that she did not think the contact was intentional.”

Investigators also obtained text messages sent by Posteraro that gave slightly varying accounts of the exchange. “Posteraro wrote to others that she had been ‘chased, thrown to the ground and had her phone taken,’ ” the report said. “In another, she said that ‘John just knocked me to the ground a few times and took my phone have it back but of (sic) something happens to me John Velleca did it’ and that ‘he tossed me around.’ ”

According to the report, Velleca returned the phone to Posteraro before leaving her house Sept. 11. That night, however, under advisement by the Hillsborough County Attorney’s office, police officers from Hillsboro confiscated the device and returned it to the Weare Police Department. Velleca removed the phone from an evidence bag the next morning and had the Apple store in Nashua erase the memory, the report said.

The report said Posteraro had agreed to give the phone to the Hillsboro police, though she explained that it had evidence of her relationship with Velleca. She declined to report a criminal complaint at that time, and filed for the restraining order after Velleca returned to her house Sept. 13.

Velleca told investigators that he took the phone to the Apple store to see “whether there was anything criminal in nature on the phone,” and that he had it wiped because he “intended to give the phone to an officer that he was planning on promoting to Detective the following Monday,” according to the report.

Though the phone was being stored in an evidence bag, Velleca insisted that he did not believe it was such, because the bag was marked “other,” “return to Weare PD” and “for safekeeping.” “Moreover,” he said, according to the report, “the Hillsboro Police released the phone which practice would not occur if it had in fact been evidence of criminal activity.”

The report said there was no clear proof that Velleca had erased the phone to destroy evidence that could have been used in a criminal investigation.

“At that time, Posteraro had yet to report the allegation of assault to the Hillsboro Police or apply for an Emergency Protective Order,” it said. “Therefore, there is a reasonable basis to support the notion that that Velleca did not believe that an investigation was pending or about to be instituted.”

The report also noted that Posteraro had told Velleca previously that she routinely backed up her phone in other ways, as a safety precaution. “Therefore,” it said, “this belief undermines Velleca’s motive to destroy, conceal or remove files or data on the phone when he knew that they could be alternatively accessed via the ‘cloud.’ ”

Posteraro ‘able to return’

Posteraro’s attorney, Benjamin King, said last night that he was disappointed by the attorney general’s emphasis on “slight inconsistencies” in his client’s accounts, and relative lack of attention on Velleca’s fabrications.

“That’s the exact fear that victims of domestic violence have, that disparages them from coming forward,” he said. He further took issue with Velleca’s comments about the phone. “His explanation that he decided to assign it to another officer is not credible at all, in my estimation,” he said.

A hearing on whether the restraining order should remain in place had been scheduled for Wednesday in Hillsboro’s district court, but it has been postponed. Both Velleca and Posteraro, who is also on administrative leave, would have had to appear for that proceeding.

Clow said the selectmen have yet to decide whether to continue Posteraro’s leave, which, like Velleca’s, expires after today. King insisted that Posteraro “stands ready and able to return to work.”

Deputy police Chief Sean Kelly will remain in charge of the department in the interim, Clow said.

Velleca has been living in Manchester since he joined the department last fall. Posteraro also lived there until recently; she indicated in the petition that she has been living temporarily at an undisclosed address in Hillsboro. She was hired by the police department in January as a part-time records clerk, and was promoted to 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 the August shooting. A former acting police chief in New Haven, Conn., he succeeded longtime Weare police chief Gregory Begin, who retired early last year.

Velleca did not return requests for comment last night. In his letter, he wrote, “My biggest regret is the harm I have caused to the people I love the most – my wife and daughter. I am terribly ashamed and deeply sorry to have hurt them.”

“The Weare Police Department must continue its positive progress forward as it continues to bring the upmost professionalism to its mission to protect Weare residents and administer justice in an even handed manner,” he added. “My continued presence as part of the Department is a distraction from that mission.”

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


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