AYER — Board of Selectmen Chairman Frank Maxant is planning to present evidence in a court case that will almost certainly be used to counter the testimony of an Ayer Police Officer.
The news was reported in an Aug. 2 memo from town administrator Shaun Suhoski.
Maxant said he was scheduled to testify in Ayer District Court on Aug. 8, but the court date has been postponed for four months.
Though he claimed no knowledge on the particulars of the case, he said he agreed to testify when Shirley-based attorney Marcia Kovner contacted him to inquire about using the so-called “Gantz Report” as evidence in a case. Maxant said he agreed to do so once he was convinced the report was in his care as the selectmen chairman.
When asked if he needs approval from the board to present the report, he said the board can’t dictate whether evidence is brought to court.
“I was approached by the lawyer and responded to the lawyer’s request to bring more information to a trial The bottom line is the court has a right to all the relevant information,” said Maxant. “ My testimony is going to be about the credibility of one of our police officers.”
The Gantz report was commissioned by the town in 1997, according to Suhoski, and outlined an investigation of the Ayer Police Department’s practices. It led to the dismissal of patrolman Terrence McSweeney, though that decision was later overturned by an arbitrator, and the town was hit for a substantial settlement and lost wages.
In his memo, Suhoski expressed concerns about possible liability for the town. He said it needed to be clear Maxant was testifying solely on his own behalf.
After notifying the board, Suhoski said he asked town counsel to draft a letter to Kovner stating that.
Maxant said he never claimed to represent the town in this matter.
“I have no right to represent the board, and I’m not saying I am,” said Maxant. “I’m bringing the Gantz report as evidence.”
A call to Kovner’s office was not returned by press time.
In the memo, Suhoski wrote he was troubled by “Selectman Maxant’s statement that the purpose of his testimony was to discredit or impeach the testimony of Officer McSweeney.”
However, police Chief Richard Rizzo, who claimed ignorance of the specifics, said it’s unlikely the courts will allow Maxant to present the Gantz report.
“Defense attorneys have attempted to bring it forward in the past, and judges have not allowed it,” he said. “ I don’t think the judge will allow it. It’s ancient history.”
Officers of the Ayer Police Department are only allowed to speak with the media at the chief’s discretion, said Rizzo, which he would not grant in this case to officer McSweeney.
“I think it’s just reopening old wounds,” said Rizzo. “The case was investigated, he received a 30-day suspension through the arbitration, and I think he’d like to put it behind him That was 10 or 12 years ago.”
Rizzo and Maxant admitted there is a history between Maxant and McSweeney that goes back to when the officer removed Maxant from a meeting over 10 years ago.
Maxant maintains to this day that McSweeney falsified the report to make it look like he was causing a ruckus, while Rizzo said his understanding of the incident jibed more with McSweeney’s account than Maxant’s.
Rizzo also referred to July 2005 when Maxant raised issues during McSweeney’s re-appointment hearing.
Maxant agreed. He said he’d heard complaints about the officer that mirrored his own.
“I decided if I smelled that much smoke, it would be irresponsible not to look for some fire,” said Maxant.
McSweeney was re-appointed, but Maxant began a series of inquiries into department’s business shortly after.
That has had Maxant butt heads with Rizzo several times since then. Rizzo said the selectmen — except Maxant — have supported him at every turn, saying Maxant has violated town and board policies over the past year with his numerous inquires.
“I have a problem with everything Mr. Maxant does in investigating the Police Department,” said Rizzo. “As far as the Gantz report, if the judge allows it, and they need someone to testify about it, I don’t have a problem with that. I do have a problem with Mr. Maxant’s continued interference with the Police Department.”
For his own part, Maxant maintains this current case is only about providing evidence that was requested. Less clear is when Maxant’s questions about department practices will cease.
In July Maxant asked the selectmen to request evidence from Rizzo about a pending case of vandalized public property. Maxant was concerned the damage alleged to a young adult did not match the crime, but the board voted down his request for more evidence 4-0.
Rizzo, who has publicly admonished Maxant for such behavior, said he’s not expecting a change any time soon.
“Mr. Maxant’s behavior is demeaning toward the Police Department. It’s affecting morale,” he said. “It’s having a negative effect on the department, and its having a negative effect on me. I don’t know when it will stop.”