Ex-Weare officer sues town, alleging wrongful termination

Monitor staff
Published: 11/28/2016 9:53:02 PM

An ex-Weare police officer is suing her former employer, alleging she was “subjected to constant harassment and social isolation” and wrongfully terminated after six years on the force.

Lisa Censabella of Nashua filed the lawsuit against the town of Weare, Police Chief Sean Kelly, Lt. Frank Hebert, Town Administrator Naomi Bolton, as well as several former officers and five selectmen. The 37-page lawsuit landed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Concord after first being filed in Hillsborough County Superior Court in Manchester.

Censabella, who joined the Weare Police Department part-time in August 2009, is the latest of several former town employees – many of them ex-officers – to sue Weare since mid-2015. One of those lawsuits was filed by former police lieutenant James Carney, who was the target of an internal investigation that he says forced him to resign amid emotional distress.

The cases of the two former officers are linked, as Censabella says she was the victim of harassment, retaliation and intimidation for refusing to take part in what she called “a smear campaign” to remove Carney. She accuses the town of engaging in “economic, psychological and social warfare” against her.

Her lawsuit raises 10 claims, some of which are based in state law and others in federal law. Those claims include, civil liberties violations, wrongful termination, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and retaliation. She is requesting a jury trial in federal court.

Attorney Daniel Schwarz, who is representing Weare and several town officials, declined to comment on the case Monday. The town’s response to the lawsuit is due Dec. 15.

Censabella accepted a full-time position with the Weare Police Department in August 2010. But it was more than two years later that the divides within the department crystallized and the personal attacks spiraled out of control, she said.

In February 2013, Censabella was contacted at home by her direct supervisor, Kenneth Cox. He requested that Censabella provide a written statement to the union and the town that outlined misconduct by Carney, the lawsuit says. The officers were bypassing then-Chief Gregory Begin, which was a violation of town policy, the department’s operating procedure and union contract, Censabella said.

In a follow up phone call, Officer Kimberly McSweeney also advised Censabella to provide a written statement, noting “it would be in her best interest,” the lawsuit says.

Censabella told both McSweeney and Cox that she had not witnessed any misconduct by Carney and would not make false accusations.

Carney was placed on administrative leave days later. In the proceeding months, two employees who had worked closely with Carney resigned – and so did Chief Begin. Further, Carney left the department in July 2013.

The town had issued a “no contact” order prohibiting employees from talking with Carney, who prior to his resignation had been on administrative leave. Censabella said she was quickly accused of violating that order and “leaking” information.

She said shortly after she was reassigned to the patrol division in February 2014, she began suffering from “extreme anxiety, social isolation, and depression as a result of work-related stress.” But Censabella feared town officials would fire her if she reported her concerns, the lawsuit says.

Censabella said she had accumulated a huge caseload and began to fall behind. Kelly, who was the interim chief at the time, told Censabella he was dissatisfied with her performance. Censabella said she tried to explain “her medical issues, stress, social isolation, and burdensome workload,” but that Kelly became angry and threatened her job.

She was placed on administrative leave Dec. 29, 2014. Six days later, the select board held a hearing and imposed a 30-day suspension.

That suspension was scheduled to end Feb. 9, 2015, but Kelly refused to reinstate it.

A month later, she received an email from Kelly about an internal affairs investigation that he had initiated against her. Censabella, who was on medical leave at the time, said she inquired with Kelly about the nature of the investigation but that he refused to answer her.

Censabella was medically cleared to return to work in spring 2015, but said in a matter of weeks she became the subject of additional internal affairs investigations. She said they were a “mere ruse” to place her on administrative leave, once again.

The town placed her on unpaid administrative leave in August and officially terminated her employment with the Weare Police Department two months later.

In addition to the lawsuit filed by Carney, two other town employees filed complaints in 2015.

That July, former police department secretary Jennifer Posteraro sued, claiming members of the department conducted internal investigations into her conduct after she filed protective orders against former police chief John Velleca, and retaliated against her when she returned to work. That case is still pending.

A month later, the administrative assistant before Posteraro, Dawn Wheeler, also sued the town, claiming she was wrongly fired for a disability after six years of service and replaced by Posteraro. The matter was settled out of court.

From 2012 to 2014, the town also settled three other lawsuits, one with former police sergeant Lou Chatel for $274,999.67 after he alleged harassment and intimidation from other officers including then-lieutenant Carney, and two from private citizens also saying they were harassed by officers.

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, adandrea@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)

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