SHIRLEY — Dozens of people gathered outside the Shirley Police Department on Saturday with signs and T-shirts to protest the termination of former Sgt. Alfreda Cromwell.
Cromwell, who attended Saturday’s rally, was fired at a contentious Board of Selectmen meeting Wednesday after initially being demoted Nov. 1 from sergeant to patrol officer. She was accused of disobeying orders from Police Chief Thomas Goulden not to renew a confidential registration for her vehicle, which led to her demotion, and then of giving fraudulent testimony during a hearing about the incident, which prompted the termination.
And on Saturday, more than 50 residents — many of whom had attended the Board of Selectmen meetings to oppose any disciplinary action against Cromwell — stood in front of the Police Department and town offices wearing shirts that said “Cromwell Strong” and chanting “Ali.”
“There’s not enough evidence to prove anything,” said Renee Buddington, who helped organize the rally. “The town is on her side, we always will be, and we need to get her back.”
Protesters were outside the department for more than an hour. Participants took turns speaking about their experiences with Cromwell, an ex-Marine who joined the force in 2007 and became a sergeant in 2010, and about her work in the community.
Many praised her focus on interacting with children. Sharon Webb, a counselor at the Ayer Shirley Regional Middle School, said she frequently saw Cromwell working in the school.
“I’ve seen firsthand how Ali goes the extra mile 24/7 for everyone,” Webb said. “She would come up before her shift to work with kids on her own time. We all love her.”
Jillian Walters-Taylor, who organized a Facebook group called “Help Support Sgt. Cromwell” that has more than 400 members, recalled an instance when her daughter interacted with the officer. Cromwell was preparing to bring the D.A.R.E. program back to local schools, and Walters-Taylor’s daughter was feeling anxious about addressing the heavy subject matter, so Cromwell sat down with her to work through everything privately.
“That is something my daughter is going to carry with her for the rest of her life,” Walters-Taylor said. “In the short time she (Cromwell) has been with the town, she has made such an important impact, especially on kids. She just needs to be here.”
Attendees at Saturday’s rally also signed a petition calling for Cromwell to be reinstated to her position.
Cromwell’s use of a confidential license-plate registration dates back to 2007, when she says she was threatened outside Ayer District Court. That occurred during a previous chief’s tenure, and Goulden said at the Nov. 1 Board of Selectmen hearing that the department has no record of that incident.
Goulden did not want Cromwell to renew the confidential plate, but she did so anyway, prompting an investigation and her demotion. Then, Goulden called for another hearing on Wednesday because he believed Cromwell had lied when she said police administrative assistant Ann Whiting backed up her claim about being threatened.
Cromwell and her attorney were steadfast Wednesday that she was telling the truth and countered that Whiting’s story had changed several times and that Goulden had been pressuring her. But regardless, Selectmen Kendra Dumont and Robert Prescott — who are the target of a recall campaign — voted in favor of Cromwell’s termination. Selectman Enrico Cappucci was the lone vote against firing the sergeant because he felt there was not enough evidence.
Goulden and Cromwell have clashed in the past, and in January, Cromwell filed a complaint against the department for discrimination and retaliation.
Cromwell received loud cheers from the crowd when she arrived at Saturday’s rally. She thanked the crowd for their support and then spent time walking around embracing residents.
“I stand here with extreme gratitude,” she told the Nashoba Valley Voice. “It’s actually put tears in my eyes.”
Cromwell said she and her attorney plan to appeal her termination.
“We’re going to fight this in arbitration and get the truth out there,” she said.
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