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Accusations claim Chief forced 'good cops' to leave
PARIS — A letter of complaint written in March by then Paris Police Officer William Cook, alleging improper actions by Chief David Verrier, resulted in an investigation of the chief earlier this year.
Verrier confirmed an investigation by an outside party had taken place and that it returned no findings.
Cook said he was not completely satisfied with the outcome of the investigation, so, Cook said, he sent copies of the letter directly to selectmen in August.
"I didn't have a lot of faith in the investigation that was conducted," he said.
Cook worked as a part-time officer briefly in 2007 and then from 2009 until this year. He took a position with the Mexico Police Department in April.
He said he sent the letter because of his concern, as a Paris taxpayer, that the department was losing too many veteran officers.
"It appears as though Paris Police Department is losing experienced officers at a high rate. At what point does someone ask 'why?'" said Cook.
Despite the letter of complaint, Cook affirmed Verrier was very supportive of patrolmen and their families during his period of employment in Paris.
Selectboard Chair Sam Elliot would not confirm receiving a letter, citing confidentiality of personnel issues. He said selectmen would investigate concerns if they occurred.
"Anytime, in a general sense, we had concrete concerns or accusations, I fully expect the board would look into it," Elliot said.
The 12-page complaint addressed to then Town Manager Phil Tarr on March 3, claims Verrier used his position to reduce hours, investigate and eventually force Cook out of the department.
In his letter, Cook alleged that improper treatment began after he reported being shorted hours in his paycheck and described a "hostile work environment" to Tarr during a December 2011 meeting.
In the letter, Cook claimed the internal investigation conducted on him is an attempt to smear his reputation as a police officer.
"I feel that the 'investigation' being conducted merely a witch hunt designed to damage me as a person and an attempt to damage my career by destroying my integrity," Cook wrote.
As Cook wrote in the letter, the episode is representative of a pattern of behavior by Chief Verrier.
"History proves this is not the first time this has happened. History proves anyone who stands against Chief Verrier will be punished to the furthest extent possible," Cook wrote.
In his letter, Cook named seven officers he said were "considered 'not good enough' to work for Chief Verrier" – Matt Daily, Dan Hanson, Ron Cole, Brian Landis, Christie Sugars [McAllister], Alan Coffin, Anthony Keach and Nate Bowie.
Bowie, however, still works for Paris part-time, said Verrier.
Daily, who served full-time in Paris from 2000 to 2004, agreed he left Paris due to the treatment he received from Verrier.
"I was forced out due to prejudice and bias for speaking out," Daily said.
"When something's not right, I'm going to speak up, that's how I am," said Daily, "and that didn't jive with Chief Verrier and he and the town manager at the time really worked to get me out."
As Paris union shop steward, Daily says he began receiving multiple unreasonable disciplinary actions after filing a grievance related to uncounted sick days for union members.
Daily, now serving as an Auburn Police Department corporal, says he has not changed his work ethic and habits but has not received one disciplinary citation since he joined Auburn.
Brian Landis, now an Oxford County Sheriff's Office Lieutenant, said he left Paris in 2003 "to go on to bigger and better things," but would not comment further.
Coffin served in Paris from 1999 to 2005 and is now a patrol officer in Oxford. He declined to comment on the matter.
Dan Hanson, a State Trooper who worked in Paris from 2001 to 2002 said his departure was not a result of Verrier's management.
"To say he [Verrier] is the reason I left? That's not accurate," Hanson said.
Hanson said that when he served as a Paris officer he clashed with Verrier over some decisions and the chief's management style, but said those types of disagreements go with the job.
"Ultimately, what it comes down to, is chief has final say. At times can that create disgruntled employees? Absolutely."
Hanson said that he left the department specifically to join the state police, a motivation he said Verrier supported.
Despite disagreeing with Verrier on some matters, he said he still respects the chief and believes he has the best interest of Paris at heart.
Cole said only that he had "left for personal reasons in 2007." McAllister (Sugars) declined comment and Bowie and Keach could not be reached by press time.
Verrier responded to the allegations, although he said he was unable to go into details of a personnel issue.
"Being a police officer is a tough but rewarding profession," Verrier said.
"We need to be honest and dependable and have integrity and be professional at all times. I have always told my staff, treat people like you want to be treated. Sometimes people don't meet those expectations," Verrier said.
According to Verrier, his focus right now is moving forward and tackling the significant challenges facing the community.
Verrier said that some of the friction in the department stems from the selectboard's decision to pull officer pay raises from the 2011-2012 budget.
The decision, he said, deeply affected department morale.
"They [officers] felt they were working hard but weren't being rewarded for the work they were doing and it left a bad taste in their mouths."
"It's been a tough challenge for me, as a manager, to deal with certain situations because of that."
Verrier said the decision to hire and fire employees ultimately rests with the town manager. As chief, he has no authority to remove officers.
The loss of Paris officers sometimes has to do with their own professional ambitions – working for a small police department might not offer much upward mobility, Verrier said.
"Good police officers look to better themselves – they're not going to want to stay in one position at patrol ... those are challenges that not only the town of Paris faces, Norway faces those, Oxford faces those, the county sheriff faces those," noted Verrier.
Moreover, Verrier said, departments across the state were having a hard time finding officers who would take the necessary hours.
"Some people don't want to work nights, they don't want to work weekends, they don't want to work holidays," Verrier related.
He agreed that some of his decisions have met with disagreement from officers.
"People are going to like some of the decisions I make and some people are not going to like the decisions I make. That's part of my job."