Belchertown chief finalist named in hazing lawsuit

  • Northampton Police Station

For the Gazette
Published: 4/8/2016 1:40:32 PM

BELCHERTOWN — Northampton Police Lt. Robert Powers, one of three finalists being interviewed for the position of Belchertown chief of police, was named as a defendant in a 2014 civil lawsuit in his capacity as an instructor at the Western Massachusetts Police Academy.

According to the complaint, filed by a trainee who was dismissed before completing the course, Powers engaged in a pattern of demeaning behavior and culturally insensitive comments.

Timothy Turley, who brought the action, claims that Powers compelled him to “perform the degrading task of kneeling down and placing socks on the bare feet of another student officer.”

Turley was in his mid to late 40s at the time and older than the other students. He claims he was discriminated against because of his age and was unduly punished for speaking out against what he perceived as “hazing” practices.

The complaint alleges that instructors, including Powers, “repeatedly ridiculed (him) about his supposed use of Viagra, rotary phones and numerous other age-related topics,” causing him “to feel singled out, humiliated and embarrassed.”

The complaint also alleges that “Powers regularly used the term ‘ethnics’ interchangeably with ‘Hispanics,’” and that he told student officers that “Massachusetts police officers could issue citations to ‘ethnically altered vehicles all day long.’” Turley also alleges that Powers “clearly expressed his pleasure” that the class “was not ‘ethnically diverse’ because the entire class was made up of apparently ‘white’ recruits.”

A call to Powers on Friday afternoon was not immediately returned.

Belchertown Select Board Chairman Ronald Aponte said on Friday that he was aware of press reports relating to the lawsuit. “This will be a piece of the puzzle” in terms of how the board decides on who to hire as the town’s next police chief to replace Francis Fox Jr., said Aponte. Fox resigned last fall after a Granby police report emerged showing that he was drunk during a traffic stop in February 2015, though he wasn’t charged as a result of that incident.

In a written statement, Boston attorney Robert Sinsheimer, who represents Turley, said on Friday, “It appears to me that management at the academy openly fostered a culture of bullying and discrimination. My personal opinion would be that those involved would not be qualified to serve the public in police management positions.”

Powers and two other finalists will be interviewed in the Belchertown Town Hall Friday night beginning at 6:30. The other two finalists are Amherst Police Capt. Christopher Pronovost and Sturbridge Police Lt. Mark Saloio.

Eric Goldscheider can be reached at eric.goldscheider@gmail.com

 

Turley Complaint by GazetteNET

Turley Complaint by GazetteNET




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