SHIRLEY — When Thomas Goulden was named police chief in 2014 he had a 10-year goal.
He did not remain that long.
He planned to build the department so the next chief could be chosen from within. Training and obtaining good equipment was part of his strategy to rebuild morale and move the department in the right direction.
He got the DARE program up and running again. Officers can now take field training within the department, learning firearm skills or have someone in the cruiser with them when they first go out on the road.
The then-new chief was impressed at the willingness of department members to volunteer on their own time to do things like serve meals at the Senior Center.
“I was told there were morale issues,” Goulden said in a conversation in September. “I didn’t know how deep.”
The New Hampshire resident was placed on paid administrative leave less than three years into his contract. He won’t be returning to the department. A subsequent investigation faulted him for conduct unbecoming an officer and failure to follow town policies.
He remains on paid leave with a $2,500 bi-weekly salary and health benefits until the end of the fiscal year in June, when his resignation is effective.
Goulden was not present when selectmen put him on leave during a meeting in February. Sgt. Samuel Santiago was named acting chief during that meeting and was given a three-year police chief contract in July.
Under the terms of a separation agreement, Goulden said he was prohibited from saying anything bad about the town. He discussed some of the things that occurred during his tenure.
From the start, the chief hired from outside the department did not have clear sailing. Some in town felt that a department member should have been hired for the post, Goulden said.
He found a department with a lack of accountability because of insufficient training and equipment. Officers were complacent and there was no mentorship in the department.
One of the selectmen, the only one to vote against placing Goulden on leave, said in that meeting that there were pre-existing problems in the department.
“Goulden inherited a place without good supervision and people were not being properly directed,” Selectman Jim Wilson said. Wilson was first elected during a recall election in January, re-elected in May and resigned without giving a reason in August.
The fractures in the department were deeper than he realized, Goulden said. Instead of developing a working atmosphere of mutual respect and teamwork, the fractures remained.
“I put out forest fires, one after another,” he said.
Goulden ended up taking more disciplinary actions over the course of under three years than he did during the previous 22 years he spent in law enforcement, he said.
“The public didn’t agree with what I did,” Goulden said.
Goulden’s decisions and actions captured the attention of vocal opponents.
At his recommendation, selectmen demoted then-Sgt. Alfreda Cromwell in November and then fired her the next week. Townspeople protested the action.
Goulden had disciplined Cromwell in the past.
Residents complained that Cromwell had not properly dealt with two separate child abuse allegations.
Goulden asked for an outside investigator.
The investigation by Alfred P. Donovan in 2015 found that Cromwell had violated department policies and rules. In one case, she took no action on a complaint for 132 days.
“I had no idea” that a tablet possibly containing evidence was in Cromwell’s desk drawer, Goulden said. “That is a nightmare for any police chief.”
Cromwell was suspended for five days.
In 2016 Goulden asked the selectmen to demote Cromwell from sergeant to officer, accusing her of not following orders. The selectmen held hearings and reviewed the report by Lt. Warren O’Brien of the Boxborough Police Department.
On Nov. 1, the board demoted her.
The following week, alleging she lied, Goulden asked that the selectmen terminate Cromwell. They did. State police cleared residents from the meeting after some began to call out and be disruptive.
Selectman Rico Cappucci, the only selectman not recalled in January and a former Shirley police chief, voted against demoting and terminating Cromwell.
On Nov. 1 Goulden requested that Cappucci recuse himself. He cited the selectman’s personal prejudice against Goulden as chief and Cappucci’s existing personal relationship with Cromwell.
Cappucci did not recuse himself.
Signs calling for Cromwell’s reinstatement popped up on lawns around town soon after the meeting. Residents gathered in front of the police station to protest.
“I always do what’s right,” Goulden said. “I don’t regret any of it.”
On Dec. 31, 2015, he learned that Cromwell filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, MCAD.
“I was scratching my head,” Goulden said. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
The town hired another investigator, Jean Haertl, to look into Cromwell’s allegations. She ended up investigating 14 items. Some were allegations against other members of the department.
Two selectmen on the board when Cromwell was fired, Kendra Dumont and Bob Prescott, were recalled at the end of January 2016. Goulden said if the recall had not gone through, he would still be in his job. He was placed on administrative leave in February.
The selectmen, with two new members, looked at the complete Haertl report by after seeing an executive summary.
The report found insufficient evidence of discrimination, but did find evidence that Goulden violated policies regarding conduct unbecoming an officer and engaged in unprofessional conduct.
In one instance the report found, “none of the witnesses supported the contention that Goulden’s negative conduct and commentary toward Cromwell was related to her race, gender or sexual orientation.
“In fact, it is undisputed that Goulden, upon learning a female resident was making inappropriate commentary towards Cromwell in 2015, including insinuating she wanted a romantic relationship with her, Goulden immediately and professionally addressed the matter with Cromwell in an effort in ensure Cromwell was comfortable with working the case.”
When the board placed Goulden on leave, Cappucci said the report was “very disturbing, question mark after question mark.”
During the February meeting, Town Administrator Patrice Garvin requested clarification, asking if the new investigation was to be based on the Haertl report.
“That’s already been voted,” Cappucci said.
The White Report
It wasn’t until May, when an investigator contacted him, that Goulden learned what the new investigation was looking into.
None of the seven items in the scope of investigation were among the allegations investigated by Haertl.
The report — completed in May by Paul J. White — found that two of the allegations in the provided by the selectmen had merit.
Goulden used poor judgment when he asked a subordinate, who has since resigned, to take pictures of a recall petition, White found. The chief had a responsibility to remain politically neutral.
He merely passed the picture along, never looking at it, Goulden said.
According to the White report, Goulden relayed between 12 and 18 images to Selectmen Dumont and Prescott.
“Would I do it again?” he said in September. “Probably not. I don’t need the aggravation.”
The photo did not affect the outcome of the election, he said. Dumont and Prescott were recalled.
The report faulted Goulden on another allegation. The chief should have been aware of the policy prohibiting most employees from carrying firearms, despite never having received an employee handbook.
Seeing a dispatcher carrying a gun, Santiago, then a sergeant, told him about the policy.
Santiago did not tell Goulden about the encounter.
The dispatcher resumed carrying his gun after an informal discussion with Goulden.
“Shame on the dispatcher for even approaching me,” Goulden said.
An investigation done at the request of the town administrator into allegations against Recreation Commissioner Keith Begun contributed to his rising unpopularity, Goulden said.
The 2016 investigation resulted in a conviction of forging an invoice. More than two dozen supporters went to Ayer District Court in November when the judge placed the felony charge for Begun on file for a year.
The commissioner received no sentence and the charge will be dismissed after a year if he has no more legal issues. He remains on the Recreation Commission.
Goulden, 55, has a pension from New Hampshire and wants to continue working in law enforcement.
Follow Anne O’Connor on Twitter @a1oconnor.