A Gloucester police officer had his complaints mishandled by former interim police Chief John McCarthy and other city officials who then fired him from his job more than a year ago, a state labor hearing officer has found.

The 32-page decision does not call for any monetary or other penalties against the city or McCarthy. The decision, issued by Kerry Anne Bonner, a Boston-based attorney and hearing officer with the Department of Labor Relations, also stopped far short of calling for fired officer and former patrolman's union chief Leon Stuart to win his job back.

In her finding, Bonner concludes that McCarthy and the city violated state labor law when the chief, who headed the department in an interim role from October 2016 through his retirement in March, ordered Stuart to responded to a series of questions regarding an internal department investigation, and did the same when he "disparaged" a Patrolman's Association stand seeking changes that eliminated bonus pay rates for officers who work details at Gloucester's beaches.

Bonner's order required only that the the city cease and desist from "interfering, restraining or coercing employees in the exercise of their (union) rights by unlawfully interrogating them regarding activities protected under the law." The order also called for the city to post signed copies of a notice to employees regarding their union rights and Bonner's decision.

Current police Chief Edward Conley said Tuesday that the notices, dated with the finding Sept. 5 and obtained last week by the Times, were posted "the next day" after they were received, and in a conspicuous place — the department's roll-call room.

Conley said the ruling has not had a significant impact on the department or its operations.

"It was separate from the termination decision. It had a limited scope," he said of the ruling. "It focused on particular incidents, and did not involve the termination."

Stuart's June 2018 firing, which has been upheld by an arbitrator in a separate state Department of Labor Relations case, was tied to his alleged use of excessive force during a traffic stop on Washington Street in December 2017. Stuart, a 13-year veteran of the Gloucester Police Department at the time of his ouster, also has a federal lawsuit pending against the city and is seeking $950,000 in damages.

McCarthy, who took over the department when Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken ousted Leonard Campanello from the chief's post in October 2016, said Tuesday he was "surprised" by the hearing officer's finding. But he also said the incidents involved "are the kinds of things that happen every day."

In one instance, Bonner found that McCarthy wrongly coerced and ordered Stuart, then head of the patrolman's union, into responding to questions regarding another incident. Stuart he had said he observed two senior officers eavesdropping at the door of Donna Leete, the city's human resources director, while she met inside with Stuart and Senior Officers Association President Mike Williams.

They, in turn, had been talking about what the unions believed were "inappropriate" remarks made by Lt. David Quinn to his brother, Detective Thomas Quinn, regarding Thomas Quinn's speaking with Campanello at the May 2017 funeral of Officer Heath Moseley. Both Quinns later served brief suspensions over those actions.

Following up the alleged eavesdropping incident, McCarthy ordered Stuart to answer 14 questions regarding it, saying that the alleged case of eavesdropping was "a lie." But Stuart maintained that, as union president and considering the talks focused on union actions, the chief had no right to question what amounted to union conversations.

"All I really did was to write a report (answering the questions), but (Bonner) decided, because of his union protections, I wasn't able to do that," McCarthy said Tuesday.

"I think we did a lot of good things, but with four unions in the building (patrolman's, superior officers and two civilian unions) you can't make everybody happy all the time," said McCarthy, who is now seeking at at-large seat on Gloucester's City Council. "If the union doesn't agree with what I did that's their right, but I was surprised (at the finding)."

The other incident spotlighted in Bonner's ruling was an incident that followed the unions push to pay all officers working beach details a flat fee of $48 an hour, rather than paying officers hired prior to 2014 and those with higher education degrees more — unlike on other details.

This time, McCarthy allegedly told Officer Stephen Lamberis, a member of the patrolman's association, that Stuart was "trying to reach into your pockets and take money away from you" by pushing for the change, which was ultimately approved.

In her finding, Bonner ruled that McCarthy was wrong to have "disparaged the association's protected (union) activity regarding the beach detail to a bargaining unit employee."

Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705 or rlamont@gloucestertimes.com.

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