SHIRLEY -- The fate of Shirley Police Chief Thomas Goulden will be determined Monday following a special hearing Tuesday. His supporters and detractors disagree if the driving force is his alleged violation of several town policies or small-town politics.
Goulden was placed on paid administrative leave on Feb. 28 and the town hired Paul White, former state police trooper, to investigate seven separate allegations against Goulden. White dismissed five of them but said the remaining two were "very poor judgment" and the result of "a systematic problem with the Shirley Police Department" and broke three different town policies.
Selectmen James D. Wilson and Holly Haase postponed the actual vote to see if Goulden will lose his job because his attorney did not receive all of the available documents, such as transcripts from White's interviews with subjects from his investigation.
"I don't believe tonight would be the night to make the decision," said Haase. She said she's doubtful that Goulden's camp could come up with compelling arguments to get her change her vote, but wanted to give them the chance to prepare out of fairness.
"I think the chief should have some form of progressive discipline," said Wilson, but he said the evidence is not enough to justify termination. He said he's seen other communities were police officers committed crimes and kept their jobs, while these charges are much lesser in nature.
Town Attorney Timothy D. Zessin went over details from White's report, which was completed in late May.
The first incident surrounds a petition to recall selectmen Kendra Dumont and Bob Prescott. Jim Thibault, owner of Lamberts Hardware Store, helped start the petition and kept a copy of the petition at his store. Goulden was asked for photos of the signed petition pages, and while off duty and out of uniform, Goulden asked reserve officer David Lange if he could take photos of the petition pages while off duty. Lange snapped the photos and sent them to Goulden, who sent them to Bryan Dumont, the selectman's husband, and then deleted them off his phone.
Prescott visited Shirley resident Dorothy Cardillo at her home and asked about her decision to sign the petition. They discussed their opposing views on the subject. White's report said that Cardillo did not describe Prescott's visit or conversation as harassment, and "...No known citizen has been identified or made it known that they were harassed."
Haase said Goulden should have known better, that a request from the chief of police to a subordinate put the officer in a difficult position, and he was inserting himself in the political process.
The second incident dealt with Dispatcher Paul Topolski carrying a concealed weapon while working. Topolski is also an auxiliary police lieutenant in Leominster and possess a license to carry a firearm, but is not a police officer in Shirley. Shirley's workplace violence policy prevents most town employees from carrying concealed firearms in town buildings.
Shirley Police Sgt. Samuel Santiago spotted Topolski's concealed weapon by the bulge in his shirt and gave him a verbal warning about the policy. Topolski agreed to stop carrying the weapon, but had an informal conversation with Goulden saying he wished he could carry his firearm. Goulden was not aware of the policy and had not been informed by Santiago of the incident and allegedly told Topolski that he can carry the weapon.
When Goulden was suspended, Santiago became the acting chief and saw that Topolski was carrying the weapon again.
Haase asked if Goulden would agree that as a department head, he was responsible for knowing all of the town policies. Goulden said he was only aware of the policies he had knowledge of. This exchange repeated several times.
At one point Goulden said, "Check my personnel file."
"I did," said Haase. She said the policy was in there as part of a packet of papers he received, but he had never signed it.
Akerson said it was significant that 13 Shirley police officers showed up in support of Goulden during Tuesday's hearing, which Goulden chose to have in public instead of in executive session.
"I hope they are here because they support the town of Shirley," said Haase. "I personally feel that they don't work for Chief Goulden; they work for the town of Shirley."
Two preliminary requests made by Akerson were both denied at the beginning of the hearing: To delay the meeting until July, and for Selectman Enrico Cappucci to recuse himself because of an alleged close personal relationship with a rival of Goulden's within the Shirley Police Department.