Second Framingham Officer Alleges Retaliation Against Town December 21, 2016
Sarah Betancourt Patch Framingham
Second Framingham Officer Alleges Retaliation Against Town

Vincent Stuart alleges he was suspended through retaliatory measures

FRAMINGHAM - Lieutenant Vincent Stuart has filed a federal lawsuit against the town of Framingham, in which he alleges that he was suspended in retaliation after "complaining about a town employee's lack of qualifications," and "police officer fantasy," according to a complaint obtained by Patch on Dec.21. The 16-year veteran of the department is currently on paid leave.

The 25-page complaint was filed in the First Circuit court Tuesday morning.

Stuart's attorney Seth Robbins told Patch, "Respectfully, we are at a loss as to the Town's position. The document upon which the Town relies, the validity of which is itself in question, does not contain any provisions which bar Lt. Stuart from filing a meritorious lawsuit against Mr. Simoneau for violating Lt. Stuart's federal civil rights and state whistleblower protections, based on the facts alleged in the complaint. It is almost as if we are talking about two different complaints, the one the Town wishes Lt. Stuart filed, and the one that was filed."

Framingham Police Detective Matthew Gutwill also filed a lawsuit in Boston's federal court in November, and is currently back in his job. Robbins, also representing Gutwill, has stated that he has been demoted to patrolman.

Gutwill's complaint alleges he was suspended in August because he revealed departmental corruption to the FBI. The lawsuit also charges that Gutwill's decision to accuse a fellow detective of lying under oath led to him being shunned, harassed, and removed from a long-held position.

This post will be updated with statements from the Town and attorneys.

Second Framingham cop files federal lawsuit December 21, 2016
Blair Miller, Erin Smith Fox 25 Boston
FRAMINGHAM, Mass. - A second Framingham police officer has filed a federal lawsuit against the town, FOX25 has learned.

Lt. Vincent Stuart claims he was suspended in retaliation after complaining about a town employee's lack of qualifications and alleged abuse of power, according to the 25-page federal lawsuit complaint filed Tuesday.

Vincent Stuart, a lieutenant and 16-year veteran of the Framingham Police Department, is now on paid leave.

His attorneys told FOX25's Blair Miller they feel Stuart was targeted.

"In retaliation for speaking up, the administration turned the tables on them and conducted an active investigation against them and manufactured at least in the case of my client - something they could latch onto," said attorney Seth Robbins.

"Lt. Stuart would like to be allowed to go back to his job," said attorney Carol Cooke. "He'd like to go back to fighting crime for the Framingham and return to the numerous leadership jobs he had."

This comes just weeks after FOX25 reported on a Framingham detective who also filed a federal lawsuit, claiming he was retaliated against for reporting corruption within the department to the FBI.

Framingham Police Det. Matthew Gutwill, a 12-year veteran of the department, has filed the lawsuit in Boston federal court against the Town of Framingham and Police Chief Kenneth Ferguson.

His complaint alleges he was retaliated against after he reported to the FBI that fellow cops lied under oath, took "mementos" from crime scenes and allowed informants to buy drugs for personal use.

Framingham Town Manager Robert Halpin said Gutwill returned to work Monday after being placed on administrative leave.

Gutwill's attorneys - who also represent Stuart - say that Gutwill has been demoted to a patrolman.

Halpin said the allegations made in both of officers' lawsuits will be disproven in court, telling FOX25, "The town's lawyers have conducted an initial review of the complaint and as a result of that, have noted numerous factual inaccuracies and erroneous assertions."

"The chief of police made some reassignments that led to some labor disagreements," said Halpin. "Some of that turmoil continues to spill over from that. We continue to stay focused on improving the labor environment."

Halpin also told FOX25 the town signed a settlement agreement with Stuart in 2015 over a "disagreement."

He wouldn't provide more details about that settlement or the disagreement but told FOX25 the lawsuit "seems to be resurrecting what was resolved in 2015."

Framingham faces lawsuit from second police officer December 23, 2016
Jim Haddadin 617-863-7144 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - For the second time this year, a veteran police officer facing disciplinary action is taking the town to court.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday against the town and a police administrator, Lt. Vincent Stuart alleges he was suspended in retaliation for filing complaints about misconduct by other officers.

Stuart, a 16-year member of the department, claims the town "trumped up" charges against him after he complained about the police chief's top advisor.

Stuart became the subject of two internal affairs investigations, and was faulted in September for allegedly providing false information in a 14-page report he drafted outlining violations by another officer.

Stuart is now suing the town and Brian Simoneau, an assistant to the police chief, alleging that Simoneau "embarked on an unabashed and unrelenting campaign of retaliation" against him after Stuart voiced concerns about Simoneau's duties.

In the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court, Stuart claims the defendants infringed on his civil rights and also violated the state whistleblower statute. Stuart is seeking to be reinstated to his former duties, to regain all seniority rights in the department and to be compensated an amount equal to three times the wages, benefits and other pay he has lost.

He is also seeking punitive damages and compensation for his injuries, including emotional distress and the harm to his reputation.

Responding to the allegations Friday, Town Manager Bob Halpin said many of the issues raised in the suit were previously resolved in a 2015 settlement, in which Stuart agreed he was not subject to retaliation.

Halpin characterized the remaining issues as an ongoing labor dispute over the chief's ability to make assignments, adding that Stuart's new allegations contain many "factual inaccuracies" and "erroneous assertions."

"We'll be responding to those in the course of the litigation," Halpin said.

Placed on leave

Stuart, a former U.S. Marine, was hired by the police department in 2000 after serving for three years as a police officer in Hawaii. He was formerly the leader of the department's SWAT team and served for more than three years as the commanding officer of the department's weapons training unit.

Among his concerns, Stuart objected that Simoneau - a legal aid to the chief - was given a gun, uniform and citation book, allowed to drive a police cruiser with a siren and granted a police radio and fob for his personal vehicle, allowing him to control traffic lights.

"Thereafter, Mr. Simoneau began conducting traffic stops, issuing citations, responding to police calls, and inserting himself in active crime scene investigations despite the fact that, unlike qualified Police Officers, he had never been screened for physical and psychological fitness, he had received no field training, and he lacked any significant, relevant experience," the suit reads.

Fearing Simoneau's free rein threatened public safety, Stuart complained to Chief Ken Ferguson, then brought his concerns to the Framingham Police Superior Officers Association. The union's executive board penned a June 5, 2015 letter taking issue with Simoneau's ability to exercise police powers.

Stuart claims Simoneau targeted him for retaliation soon after, convincing the police chief to shut down an active shooter training team he oversaw, changing the department's booking policies to require Stuart and other shift commanders to process all prisoners, then launching an investigation into Stuart's work hours.

Simoneau "clandestinely" obtained surveillance video that showed Stuart leaving work early on multiple occasions. While the footage created the appearance Stuart was committing timesheet fraud, Stuart arrived early on other days - a longstanding privilege allowed at the department, according to his complaint. Stuart was later able to show he was actually owed pay for an extra 20 hours of work for which he had not been compensated, the lawsuit states.

Stuart faced another internal investigation in 2016 after he attempted to go over the chief's head to raise a complaint against another officer.

In a lengthy report sent to the town's human resources department, Stuart asserted that the officer had been teaching a weapons course without the proper certification, and improperly collecting overtime pay as a result.

Two months later, Stuart learned he was being investigated by a deputy chief for allegedly submitting false information in his report. Stuart was placed on paid administrative leave, and is now subject to "continued suspension" based on the findings of the probe, according to his lawsuit.

Chilling' speech?

The town previously refused to provide a copy of the Sept. 30 internal affairs report to the Daily News, claiming that releasing it would present an "unwarranted invasion of privacy," and would also discourage other whistleblowers from coming forward, weakening the ability of law enforcement officers to do their jobs in the future.

Stuart's lawyers maintain the police department actively seeks to squelch whistleblowers in its ranks, citing as examples employees who were allegedly retaliated against after reporting misconduct to the FBI and engaging in union activities.

"The retaliation suffered by Lt. Stuart was not an isolated event," the suit reads, "but was part of a known, settled and widespread custom at the FPD of chilling employees' speech."

Two other veteran police officers recently made similar claims. In late October, longtime narcotics detective Matthew Gutwill filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the town in federal court, claiming he faced blowback from his superiors for disclosing misconduct to the FBI.

Gutwill allegedly told federal agents that Framingham detectives allowed informants to buy drugs for themselves during investigations, took items from crime scenes, and abused leave time to enhance their pay, according to his lawsuit.

Gutwill was later placed on leave amid an internal affairs investigation into comments he made to the police chief. While he faced a potential termination hearing, Gutwill instead served a five-day suspension and was assigned to patrol duty when he returned to work Monday - a step down from his former position working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Kevin Slattery, one of the town's three deputy police chiefs, has also accused the department of retaliating against him for airing out its dirty laundry.

Slattery was relieved of duty for more than four months this year amid a pair of investigations into his conduct, one of which remains ongoing.

In a statement issued to the Daily News last week, Slattery's lawyer wrote that the police department is "replete with personnel, administrative and procedural problems," and that Slattery is being used as a scapegoat because he uncovered several of those problems, including the disappearance of money from the evidence room.

While he acknowledged significant strife at the police department, Town Manager Bob Halpin chalked up the situation Friday to a labor dispute, saying the chief's move to reassign officers "seems to have reopened a variety of other disputes between individuals in the department."

"I think what residents should make of it is the chief asserted his management prerogative to make assignments," he said. "There was a reaction to that, and since that time, there's been a labor-management dispute that we've done our best to work through."

Framingham Lt. unfit for duty, lawyer says January 31, 2017
Jim Haddadin 617-863-7144 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - A veteran police officer should be fired for making false allegations against another member of the department, town officials argued Tuesday.

Lt. Vincent Stuart faced an eight-hour disciplinary hearing at the Memorial Building, where lawyers representing the town accused him of lying in a misconduct report he filed against another lieutenant last year.

In the lengthy report, Stuart charged the officer with teaching a weapons course without the proper certification, improperly collecting overtime pay as a result. Stuart then became the subject of an internal affairs investigation, which concluded he was untruthful in the report.

The police department placed Stuart on leave in August 2016 and later faulted him for allegedly lying during the internal affairs probe.

Stuart's actions make it impossible for him to continue functioning as a police officer, Town Counsel Christopher Brown said Tuesday, arguing Stuart's credibility is compromised. Brown added that Stuart was motivated to file his misconduct report against Lt. Robert Downing because of bad blood between them.

In a hearing notice, the town accused Stuart of incompetence and conduct unbecoming of an officer, as well violations of several departmental rules for allegedly lying and filing false and incomplete records.

"Through his actions, we believe that Lt. Stuart has brought discredit upon the Framingham Police Department," Brown said.

More than half a dozen police officers attended Tuesday's hearing to show their support for Stuart, who chose to make the proceedings public. Deputy Chief Ronald Brandolini testified for much of the day, describing the steps he took to investigate Stuart's May 2016 complaint.

Stuart accused Downing last year of teaching as many as 36 classes in less-lethal munitions without the necessary certification, Brandolini testified Tuesday, earning approximately $11,000 for the work.

Downing had previously been faulted by the department on similar grounds. In 2014, Downing was given a "letter of counseling" and taken off of training duty after it was discovered that his certification had expired three years earlier, Brandolini testified.

In his complaint, Stuart alleged that Downing's certification actually lapsed much earlier, expiring in 2002 and remaining out of date through 2011. After looking at department records, Brandolini determined the accusation was incorrect, and that Downing had the necessary paperwork on file from 2006-2011.

Soon after, the focus of the police department's investigation shifted to Stuart. Brandolini testified that he discovered Stuart had a falling out with Downing several years earlier. The relationship grew more strained because Stuart believed Downing was pursuing a criminal case against one of Stuart's family members, Brandolini said.

During cross examination, lawyer Seth Robbins questioned why Brandolini didn't conduct a more thorough investigation after finding that Downing's certificate was expired. He also pressed the deputy chief to explain why police administrators did not immediately notify Stuart he was under investigation until Stuart was placed on leave Aug. 8, 2016.

Questioning also veered toward Stuart's antagonistic relationship with Brian Simoneau, an aide to the police chief. In a federal lawsuit filed against the town last year, Stuart accused Simoneau of steering the investigation against him, claiming the police department "trumped up" its charges as retaliation because Stuart complained about Simoneau's conduct.

A hearing officer on Tuesday barred questions about Simoneau from Stuart's lawyer, saying the matter will be taken up separately in federal court.

"The issue in front of me is whether or not there is just cause to discipline," the officer, John Collins, said. "I have to make a recommendation on that."

Lt. Stephen Cronin and Sgt. Scott Brown, the head of the police supervisors union, also testified during the hearing, which concluded early Tuesday evening. The hearing officer will rule whether the town is justified to discipline Stuart within 30 days of receiving a transcript of the proceedings.

Framingham fires Vincent Stuart from police department February 23, 2017
Norman Miller 508-626-3823 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - The town has fired Vincent Stuart from the Framingham Police Department.

Acting Police Chief Steven Trask confirmed that Stuart is no longer a member of the department after a hearing officer made a ruling following an eight-hour disciplinary hearing on Jan. 31.

"We typically do not speak about personnel matters," said Trask. "I can confirm he is no longer a member of the department."

Town Manager Robert Halpin said Stuart was officially sent a termination letter on Wednesday.

Stuart's lawyer, Seth Robbins, said hearing officer John Collins' decision was not a surprise.

"The so-called decision of the hearing is not worth the paper it is written on," Robbins said. "Anyone who attended the hearing - and there were many officers there - would be able to say it was a joke. And I don't use that term lightly."

The town held the disciplinary hearing after they said Stuart lied about misconduct of Lt. Robert Downing. When the allegations against Downing were proven false, officials launched an investigation into Stuart, who was placed on paid administrative leave in August of last year.

Robbins said the disciplinary action against Stuart is retaliation for Stuart raising concerns about Brian Simoneau, the assistant to the chief. Simoneau is a civilian employee, but has been made a special police officer and given a badge.

Stuart has previously filed a federal lawsuit against the town, alleging he was being targeted in retaliation. Robbins had requested that Simoneau be ordered to testify at the January disciplinary hearing, but Simoneau was not ordered to do so.

"Our focus from the beginning has been on the pending federal lawsuit, where a federal jury will hear about the extraordinary retaliatory campaign by Mr. Simoneau after he exposed Mr. Simoneau for 'playing pretend cop and putting lives at risk,'" said Robbins. "Mr. Simoneau may have successfully ducked the disciplinary hearing but he won't be able to hide from a federal jury. The truth will come out in due time."

The Stuart termination lawsuit is just one of many personnel issues facing the Framingham Police. Former Framingham Police evidence Officer Alan Dubeshter is scheduled to be arraigned in Middlesex Superior Court on March 1 on larceny charges on charges he stole around $20,000 from the evidence room.

Officer Matthew Gutwill filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit against the town last year, alleging he was removed from a federal task force and moved from detective to officer after he alleged another detective perjured himself on the stand. Gutwill was on paid administrative leave, but has since returned as a patrol officer.

Officer Duarte Calvao resigned last month after he was accused of sexually harassing women while working a detail. He had been on leave prior to his resignation.

Robbins said Stuart has 10 days to appeal his termination to the Civil Service board. Stuart has not yet decided.

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