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Arbitrator: Investigation of Northampton officer ‘not fair’; rescinds suspension, orders back pay 

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  • Police Chief Jody Kasper, right, and Captain John Cartledge march with the Northampton Police Department down Main Street during the Northampton Memorial Day parade in 2017. File photo

  • NORTHAMPTON POLICE DEPARTMENT NORTHAMPTON POLICE DEPARTMENT



Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 04, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — An arbitrator has found that police officials mishandled an internal investigation into one of the department’s lieutenants and ordered the city to overturn his two-day suspension, wipe it from his disciplinary record and pay him back wages.

Northampton Police Lt. Alan Borowski, the former head of the detective bureau, was suspended last year after the department received an anonymous complaint on Aug. 14, 2017, alleging that in February 2016 Borowski had violated the department’s drug drop box policy. But after Borowski and the police union filed a grievance over his suspension, arbitrator Mary Ellen Shea ruled last week that the police chief and captain, as well as a private consultant, botched the investigation into the claim.

When reached by telephone Monday, Borowski, who is now a patrol lieutenant, declined to comment on the decision, referring questions to his lawyer from the New England Police Benevolent Association, Gary Nolan. Nolan did not immediately respond to request for comment on this story, but in a brief filed before the arbitrator’s decision, he said that the accusation against Borowski amounted to an “ongoing character-assassination scheme.”

“The proverbial iceberg under water here is the malicious, and frankly obvious, attempt by one or more people to injure significantly Lt. Borowski’s career and reputation,” Nolan wrote.

Borowski has also challenged a separate, three-day suspension that was the result of a second internal investigation that found he had violated other workplace policies. The findings that led to that suspension will head to arbitration on Jan. 9, according to Borowski.

Borowski’s two-day suspension came after the department received an envelope with an unsigned, typed letter alleging that 18 months prior Borowski had mishandled drugs and was personally using illegal, non-prescribed steroids. The department requested the assistance of APD Management, a firm that conducts internal and special investigations, and Borowski was first interviewed by an investigator with the firm on Sept. 18, the day he was placed on administrative leave for two months.

The department’s investigation found that Borowski violated policy by removing pills without another officer present, failing to tell superiors he had authorized an investigation into the pills and violating the chain of custody procedure in the way that he handled and documented the handling of the pills.

However, the arbitrator found that while Borowski had indeed filed an incomplete report about the removed drugs and showed “poor judgment” when he did not document their removal, Borowski did not do so for “improper, personal, or nefarious reasons.” In addition, Shea found that the department failed to use appropriate investigative techniques with “all necessary concern for the individual rights of the accused employee,” leading Shea to conclude that Borowski’s suspension should be immediately rescinded.

Arbitrator concerns

One of the arbitrator’s central concerns about the internal investigation was the assertion that Police Captain John Cartledge knew about Borowski’s handling of the pills and failed to address it. In his interview with the third-party investigator, Police Detective Peter Fappiano said that Cartledge walked out of Borowski’s office when Borowski showed him the pills.

“Captain put his hands up and uh … he just kind of shakes his head and says I don’t see nothing and I’m outta here,” reads a transcript of Fappiano’s interview included in Shea’s report. Cartledge’s alleged knowledge “suggests the Captain may have tacitly approved Lieutenant Borowski’s actions,” the report says.

Cartledge declined to answer questions from the Gazette, deferring instead to answers that Police Chief Jody Kasper provided to separate questions.

When Kasper learned of Cartledge’s potential knowledge of Borowski’s actions, she interviewed Cartledge herself, despite the fact that she had known him for more than 20 years, the report says. Kasper did not record that conversation, and did not take notes, according to Shea.

“The Chief verbally reprimanded Captain Cartledge because he had ‘made a joke about it and left the room,’ an indication she believed the Captain did have some knowledge of the incident,” Shea’s report reads. According to Kasper’s account presented in the arbitrator’s decision, Cartledge said he “could not recall” having seen the pills in the presence of Borowski and Fappiano, but conceded “it could have been true.”

That mitigating evidence was not shared with the third-party investigator, according to the report. The report goes on to say that it is “more troubling” that Kasper made no record of her interview with Cartledge, and did not give the investigator all the information that came from that interview.

Those findings led Shea to conclude that the investigation into Borowski was not pursued with “appropriate investigative techniques” or “with the same degree of professional competence as is devoted to a criminal investigation.”

Chief Kasper responds

In an email response to questions from the Gazette, Kasper said that it is common for detectives to investigate matters involving narcotics, and to process that evidence “ensuring the chain of custody is maintained.”

“If another officer sees the evidence, that does not automatically raise a suspicion that a procedure has been breached or something impermissible is occurring,” Kasper wrote. “It was never stated during the investigation that when Captain Cartledge allegedly saw the pills that he was made aware that there might be some impropriety with respect to the processing of the pills into evidence.”

Kasper said that independent investigator Al Donovan was aware of the allegation that Cartledge saw the pills. She said Donovan could have factored that into his investigation, but ultimately Donovan did not recommend that Cartledge be disciplined nor did he indicate that Cartledge’s alleged knowledge of the pills would affect the findings.

As for her interview with Cartledge, Kasper said that at the time of the investigation there was no corroborating firsthand witness supporting the assertion that Cartledge saw or knew of any misconduct with respect to the pills. She added that the grievance and arbitration process has not revealed any corroboration of impropriety on Cartledge’s part.

“I spoke to Captain Cartledge because I wanted to know if there was anything more to him seeing the pills, which he said he did not remember ever seeing,” Kasper wrote of her interview with him. “At the time I spoke with him, given the facts that I knew, I told him that if he does see someone with evidence in the future to pay more attention to it.”

Arbiter rules

Based mostly on those findings, Shea ruled that the city should immediately rescind Borowski’s two-day suspension, remove it from his disciplinary file and pay him lost wages and benefits. The arbitrator denied a request to provide damages to Borowski for overtime opportunities during the two months he was on administrative leave, as well as “economic damages” related to his removal from the position of detective lieutenant.

“The city may have had grounds to impose some corrective action or discipline if the investigation had been fair and complete, including statements from all the witnesses and any mitigating circumstances,” the report reads. “The investigation was not fair to (Borowski) because Captain Cartledge’s involvement was not handled with a comparable ‘degree of professional competence’ and because (Borowski) was subjected to different investigative techniques than others were.”

The arbitrator’s decision does not relate to a separate internal investigation, which found that Borowski violated several other workplace policies. That investigation — first reported by the Gazette — led to a three-day suspension that is expected to head to arbitration next month.

Among the allegations that led to that suspension: that Borowski lost his temper and yelled at subordinates, that he reported false information about the hours he worked, that he used his cruiser for non-police business and that he had feigned illness.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.