Weare settles suit with officer involved in fatal shooting, refuses to release details

Last modified: 6/23/2015 12:00:55 AM
The town of Weare has settled a lawsuit with Sgt. Joe Kelley, one of its former police officers who oversaw a deadly drug bust in 2013, but officials have failed to provide any details.

Kelley was fired by the department after facing accusations that he falsified documents following a botched drug bust that ended with police shooting an unarmed man. Kelley later sued the town, claiming he was fired after showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Whatever the town, or its insurance carrier, is paying him to settle the suit, officials aren’t saying yet.

However, the state’s right-to-know law stipulates that any settlement made by a governmental unit, or its insurer, must be kept on file at the town clerk’s office and made available for 10 years since the date of the settlement.

Court records show the case between Kelley and the town was settled May 19, which Town Administrator Naomi Bolton confirmed in an email.

“There was a settlement agreed upon through a mediator between Mr. Kelley, his Attorney Ben King, the Town Attorney Mark Broth, Primex (our insurance company) and their attorney, Dan Schwarz,” Bolton wrote. “There were some items in the settlement that required further actions by other parties, which is why it has taken a little extra time.”

Yet even basic information about the settlement, including whether Kelley has been paid any money, and the source of any funds has gone unanswered.

Meanwhile, Broth, the town’s attorney, said that barring further action from parties involved with the lawsuit, details of the settlement should be finalized 30 days after the date of the agreement, which would have been Thursday.

Bolton said the settlement would be available in another 30 days, on July 17.

Kelley oversaw the bust in August 2013 that resulted in the death of Alex Cora DeJesus. Kelley was fired Nov. 21, 2013, 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.

Afterward, Kelley filed suit against the town claiming wrongful termination, and his dismissal was rescinded. Kelley was placed on medical leave shortly before the termination – for stress and anxiety related to the officer-involved shooting – and the town’s attorney wrote a letter last fall stating Kelley’s employment record would reflect his medical condition and the town would continue to pay his salary.

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

The attorney general’s office did not press charges against any of the officers involved in the shooting, but was critical of the drug bust gone wrong. After officers descended on DeJesus in unmarked cruisers, he sped away in his vehicle. The first two shots missed DeJesus, but Officer Nicholas Nadeau killed him with a shotgun blast to the head. The AG’s report criticized Kelley’s leadership during and prior to the incident, and of his apparent unwillingness to cooperate with detectives during the inquiry.

In his suit, Kelley said he “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 stated. “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 town, through its insurance carrier, has settled other recent lawsuits and taxpayers have been paying higher premiums as a result.

∎  In 2012, town officials settled with restaurant owner George Hodgdon for $15,000, after he alleged he was systematically harassed by police department officials because he refused to hire officers to work details outside his restaurant, Palmer’s Tavern.

∎  In 2013, town officials settled a wrongful termination suit with former police sergeant Lou Chatel for $82,549. Chatel alleged in state and federal court he had suffered harassment and intimidation from other members of the department.

∎  In 2014, officials settled with a man named William Rodriguez for $8,000, after Rodriguez alleged his civil rights were violated when he was arrested for recording a traffic stop on video.

The town’s insurance company, Primex, subsequently increased its yearly liability premium from $117,200 in 2013 to $193,146 for 2014, according to town officials.



(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)




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