TOWNSEND — All of the turmoil in Townsend related to allegedly unlawful police background checks may soon land the town — and perhaps some residents — in court.
Timothy Burke, an attorney representing two individuals who allege that Townsend police accessed and disseminated their background information without a proper law-enforcement purpose, wrote a letter to the town on Feb. 28 requesting a copy of all documents related to the town’s investigation of the matter. He also wrote that Townsend’s insurance carrier should be “put on notice,” indicating the possibility that a civil lawsuit will be filed against the town.
Burke provided a copy of his letter to the Nashoba Valley Voice this week. He represents Kelly Merrill, executive assistant to the town administrator, and Adam Cotty, who has a relationship with Merrill.
In his letter, Burke alleged that police officers accessed records for the two and released them to the public “with the purposeful intent to publicly humiliate them and other members of the Town’s Administration.” He also alleged that Police Chief Robert Eaton “condoned” his employees’ behavior and “provided misleading information to the (state Criminal Justice Information Services) Board in an attempt to exonerate them.”
For months, town counsel has been investigating the alleged unauthorized background checks. A report from the state Department of Criminal Justice Information Services last month found that on Sept. 27, 2016, police employees were watching a Board of Selectmen meeting when the name of an individual being hired — presumably Merrill — was brought up.
At that time, the DCJIS report found, police accessed the individual’s Board of Probation files “for no official criminal justice purpose.”
Merrill had not been named publicly in any documents before Burke’s letter was filed. However, for weeks, Townsend residents have posted about her on Facebook, alleging that she is on probation or got in trouble while previously employed with the town of Groton.
Burke said those allegations are untrue. Groton Town Manager Mark Haddad said she had worked for the town for several years before resigning for personal reasons in January 2015.
“As a result of the officers’ dissemination of my clients’ personal information, Ms. Merrill, who ironically has no criminal history, has subsequently been publicly vilified and slandered in several social media accounts and public hearings,” Burke wrote in his letter. “Ms. Merrill has been held up to scorn and ridicule in the community where she lives and works for absolutely no legitimate reason.”
Burke has only filed a letter of intent with the town, but moving forward, he told the Voice “the potential is surely there” for legal action against residents who have posted allegedly libelous or slanderous statements.