TOWNSEND -- Police Chief Robert Eaton was fired by the Board of Selectmen on Friday, despite a request from his attorney that a hearing on his conduct be postponed due to Eaton's continuing treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The unanimous vote by the three-member board was immediately met with gasps and shouts from residents who filled the auditorium at North Middlesex Regional High School. Some sugested that the trio move out of town, or take their shopping outside of town. Others referenced Monday's town election and an coming election to recall Selectmen Gordy Clark and Cindy King.
Friday morning's meeting -- scheduled first as an executive session but opened to the public on Eaton's request -- marked the first time Eaton's treatment for PTSD was publicly acknowledged.
Joyce submitted a letter from Eaton's doctor requesting that any questioning of Eaton be postponed until after treatment concludes at the end of May.
Town Counsel David Jenkins, however, noted that PTSD is typically triggered by a traumatic incident and said the affidavit supplied by Eaton did not note the nature of his trauma.
This became a point just before the final vote. Eaton could not undergo questioning while under treatment, so Jenkins suggested that he could write a statement offering his defense. Joyce said such a document could take weeks to prepare; Jenkins proposed that it could be written during a 10- to 20-minute recess.
Although tensions between Eaton and municipal officials have been simmering for months, the current upheaval stems from background checks conducted by Townsend police employees.
Town officials allege that police accessed the state's records database to obtain information about Kelly Merrill, Town Administrator Jim Kreidler's assistant, just after watching Merrill's hiring during a Board of Selectmen's meeting on cable access.
The state Department of Criminal Justice Information Services later concluded the police background check on a new employee -- who likely already faced a CORI check from the town during the hiring process -- were done "for no official criminal justice purpose."
When town officials found out about the checks, they ordered town counsel to conduct an investigation. They allege that Eaton began running his own investigation despite orders not to do so.
On Feb. 10, Eaton slammed the town counsel investigation as "strategic assassination" of the police department in a Facebook post that was soon deleted. He described the DCJIS report that found no proper law enforcement purpose in the checks as "unequivocally exonerat(ing)" his department.
Eaton was placed on paid administrative leave later that day and had not returned to work by Friday's hearing.
Watch for updates on this story.