Policing issues flare in Plainfield: Suspended sergeant not reappointed, leaving chief as lone full-time officer

  • The Plainfield Select Board meeting on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/BERA DUNAU

  • Plainfield Select Board Chairman Patrick Williamson, second from left, presides over Tuesday’s meeting, with fellow board members Hilary Weeks and Ben Gillett. STAFF PHOTO/BERA DUNAU

Staff Writer
Published: 7/13/2022 8:40:29 PM
Modified: 7/13/2022 8:37:44 PM

PLAINFIELD — A police sergeant who has been suspended with pay since early June is out of a job, after Police Chief Justin Litchfield did not reappoint him for this fiscal year.

Sgt. Matthew Miazga said in an interview Tuesday that he was suspended with pay on June 7, but he declined to say why. Litchfield said he did not reappoint Miazga on advice of town counsel following a human resources investigation by an outside agency. He declined to comment further.

The Select Board reappointed Litchfield, among other town positions, at its Tuesday meeting, but not before some of the more than two dozen people in attendance brought up issues related to policing in town. Some of those issues included Miazga’s suspension, having adequate coverage, and how the Police Department intends to use additional money allocated at this spring’s Town Meeting.

One resident, former Select Board member Rebecca Coletta, also asked what action has been taken about a complaint against Litchfield that was sent to the Select Board. The board declined to comment.

The July 6 complaint, obtained by the Gazette after the meeting, was lodged by Melissa Brown, Miazga’s wife. It alleges that Litchfield made advances toward her last December when she was at the police station to pick up her husband’s check and Miazga was away at training.

“I told other townspeople and my husband about it and feel it is the reason for Chief Litchfield making up a false complaint against my husband,” Brown wrote in the complaint.

Brown informed the Gazette Wednesday that the town acknowledged receiving the complaint.

Litchfield, who did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, said he hasn’t seen the complaint against him and wasn’t aware of its contents until asked about it in an interview by the Gazette. He declined to comment.

Police questions

Coletta also asked about the chief’s staffing plan, given that Town Meeting gave the department more money this fiscal year than recommended by the Select Board and Finance Committee. The police budget for salaries is $129,090, which is $14,724 higher than what was recommended.

“Where’s the extra money going?” Coletta asked.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Litchfield said the increase went to wages, and that hours were kept the same as last fiscal year. He also noted that non-wage expenses were decreased in his budget.

Another resident, Jerry Little, said that he hadn’t known the department was short a police officer since June 7.

“I would have expected if you knew this was going on you would at least have let the public know, ‘Hey we don’t have coverage in the afternoons anymore,’” Little said.

Newly installed Select Board Chairman Patrick Williamson said there are personnel issues involved and that there isn’t a simple answer.

“I’ve been covering all of both shifts,” said Litchfield, who noted that he is on salary and doesn’t get extra money for doing so. “If there’s calls and I’m available, I cover them.”

Litchfield also said that this includes calls on the weekends.

The department currently consists of Litchfield, who works full time, and six per-diem officers, who fill shifts as needed.

Resident Peter Lapointe urged the Select Board to postpone the chief’s reappointment, saying after the meeting that he wants the board to be a stronger manager of the chief.

“I’m not aware of any job performance review,” he said.

In the end, the board voted unanimously to reappoint Litchfield.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Williamson discussed the Plainfield Police Working Group, which was formed in 2020 to examine policing in town and its costs and make recommendations for improvements.

Some of the recommendations in its April report included adjusting hours and schedules to allow for weekend coverage, taking actions to mitigate speeding concerns and conducting an analysis of the police’s off-duty traffic detail program.

Williamson expressed an interest in working with the chief to address the recommendations and bring those proposals to subsequent public meetings.

The Select Board opted not to reappoint members to the working group, which has been in existence for two years.

“They have been champions, I have to say,” Williamson said, praising the group.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.
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