By Katina Caraganis
SHIRLEY -- Nearly three weeks after the town was ordered to pay Bob Schuler $35,000 in a lawsuit he filed against the town, selectmen maintain they were justified in 2011 when they banned Schuler from public property.
The lawsuit was settled out of court in late August after the town's insurance company agreed to pay off Schuler's legal fees if the suit was withdrawn.
In May 2011, Schuler, frustrated with the budget process, said during a Finance Committee meeting that he wanted to "pull my gun out and start shooting or something." Shirley selectmen, who were not at the meeting, subsequently banned Schuler from setting foot on town property.
Selectmen told Schuler he could either resign from his positions on the Sewer Commission and Finance Committee, or take anger-management courses with a licensed professional therapist to have the no-trespassing order lifted.
The comment came shortly after former Town Administrator Kyle Keady was arrested on a slew of charges, including spying on people who worked in Town Hall. Because of the recent history, Board of Selectmen Chairman Kendra Dumont said she was only thinking about the well-being of town employees.
"I can tell you exactly what went through my head. With what we had just gone through with Kyle Keady, we were on high alert with anything with abnormal circumstances," she said. "I was concerned for the employees.
Dumont said she and the other two members of the board at the time were not at the meeting, but she said she saw it on television on the town's public-access station.
Dumont said she was approached by a member of the Finance Committee, who alerted her to what was said. Dumont declined to say which member of the board approached her.
"Somebody did say something to me. I won't release the person's name. It was a letter from a (Finance Committee) member who was very upset that he would say that," she said.
She said, to this day, if Schuler approached her on the street, she would not know who he was and did not feel comfortable making an assessment on what was going through his head.
Andy Deveau, who was on the Board of Selectmen when Schuler was banned from town property, said he felt comfortable issuing the no-trespassing order. He said he and the other two members on the board at the time are not licensed medical professionals and did not feel comfortable making a medical determination on Schuler's mindset.
When the no-trespassing order was issued, Deveau said he wanted it to stand at least until the police investigation, conducted by Sgt. Alfreda Cromwell, was completed. Cromwell did not return calls seeking comment.
After the order was issued, Schuler surrendered his Class A firearms license and multiple firearms to the Shirley Police Department. While Police Chief Gregory Massak would not confirm whether those items have been returned to Schuler, he said in 2011 that he did not believe Schuler was a threat to the community.
"I don't really know him personally, but he doesn't have a violent past," he said. "It's just an unfortunate turn of events. I'm sure if he had to do it over again, he would do it differently. He made a mistake, and he appears to be sorry about it. We're taking all the necessary precautions to make sure the community is safe."
Deveau said the situation could have been handled differently if Schuler made an effort to work with selectmen.
Former Shirley Police Chief Rico Cappucci said he did not follow Schuler's case closely, but said in this day and age, such comments are not taken lightly.
"The problem is, times have changed," said Cappucci. "We've seen things now that we would never have seen years ago. These things do happen. Whether or not it would have happened here, I doubt he would have done anything."
Cappucci worked as a police officer in Boston for years, and he remembers a time when he and his partner were out on the street and they encountered an erratic man who pulled his gun on him. The man, a security guard, was arrested and brought into court on charges of assault and battery with intent to murder.
Because of the suspect's profession, Cappucci said he was ordered to give his weapons permit back.
"If I was the chief, I'd want to bring (Schuler) in my office and have a conversation with him and then make an assessment off of that. That's the fairest way to do it," Cappucci said.
Schuler's lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, alleged that the ban was in retaliation for Schuler's public criticisms of Shirley selectmen, and that it deprived him of constitutionally protected rights to free speech, to petition the government and to due process.
Selectmen lifted the ban in July, allowing Schuler to return to public buildings. As part of the settlement, Schuler agreed to withdraw the lawsuit.
Nicholas Leitzes, one of the attorneys representing Schuler, said he never expected criminal charges to be filed against his client, in large part because no crime was committed.
Leitzes said it is clear in the video recording of the meeting that Schuler was not serious when he made the comment but was using hyperbole to express frustration with the lack of progress on the budget. He said Schuler laughs after making the comment, as does another person in the room, and the meeting continued without anyone leaving or expressing concern over the remark.
In fact, he said, everyone at the meeting came to Schuler's defense, saying they did not feel threatened by what was said, and did not perceive it to be a threat.
"In situations like this, perception is key. Clearly, Bob did not mean what he said seriously and was more frustrated than anything else," Leitzes said. "There are other things you have to take into consideration when looking at things like this, including whether the person has a history of violence, which he does not."
Leitzes said he believes if criminal charges had been filed against Schuler, they would not have held up in a court of law. While he has not spoken to selectmen or the police chief directly, he said it is quite possible that is why they decided not to pursue anything beyond the no-trespassing order.
Dumont said she has asked the town's attorney to draft a statement from the board that addresses what went on during the investigation, why it was settled out of court and what exactly the $35,000 is for.
As far as she is concerned, the matter is closed and she is looking forward to moving on from it, but she did acknowledge the board owes some sort of an explanation to residents.
She said it is her hope that through the explanation, questions residents may have will be answered.
"I don't want this started all over again. Let's put it to bed and let's all move on," she said.
Efforts to reach Schuler for this story were unsuccessful.
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