Feb. 29, 2012
By Luke BaynesObserver staff
An internal investigation of the Williston Police Department conducted in 2011 by former Burlington Police Chief Thomas Tremblay has revealed a department divided by allegations and strained by an atmosphere of “anger, distrust, frustration and fear.”
The release of the Tremblay report to the media on Feb. 27 comes in the wake of Detective Sgt. Bart Chamberlain’ s Feb. 6 appearance before the Williston Selectboard to request that a letter of discipline be removed from his personnel record.
Among the allegations made by Chamberlain at the Feb. 6 hearing were that former Police Chief Roy Nelson failed to appropriately respond to several department matters — including an incident involving a missing bag of cocaine and a 2010 traffic fatality involving a Williston resident.
The following timeline is based on information contained in the Tremblay report, a 2010 report by Attorney Colin McNeil, exhibits presented at the Feb. 6 Selectboard hearing and previous Williston Observer reports:
April 26, 2009: The son of police dispatcher Deborah Davis is arrested by Officer Joshua Moore on a charge of driving under the influence.
March 18, 2010: Acting Police Chief Bart Chamberlain is placed on administrative leave due to complaints that he engaged in an inappropriate relationship with Davis and used department funds to travel to Texas with her for a police conference. Private investigator James Cronan is placed in charge of the inquiry.
April 2010: Chamberlain signs a confidential agreement with the town that removes him as acting chief and returns him to active duty with the rank of detective sergeant.
April 2010: Doug Hoyt is hired as interim police chief.
July 2010: Roy Nelson is hired as police chief.
Sept. 2010: A bag of cocaine disappears from Detective Michael Lavoie’s desk on a Friday and is discovered the following Monday sitting next to the desk.
Oct. 18, 2010: Williston resident Dale Holcomb, 73, strikes a utility pole with his vehicle on Vermont 2A near Hurricane Lane after two prior interactions with members of the Williston Police Department earlier in the evening. He is pronounced dead the following morning at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington.
Oct. 21, 2010: Chamberlain sends a letter to Nelson, alleging discrepancies between Moore’s report of the Holcomb incident and police cruiser video from that evening.
Dec. 1, 2010: Attorney Colin McNeil is retained by the town to investigate the Holcomb incident.
Dec. 13, 2010: McNeil issues a memorandum to Nelson and Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire, in which he concludes: “Officer Moore’s report is consistent with facts and information we gathered from the materials you presented to us,” and “it is our opinion that neither Officer (Keith) Gonyeau nor Moore were derelict in their duties in investigating this incident and that both acted appropriately pursuant to the circumstances presented.”
Dec. 22, 2010: Nelson issues a letter addressed to no one concurring with the findings of McNeil’s report.
Jan. 13, 2011: Davis and Chamberlain meet with McGuire. Among Davis’ assertions to McGuire are that Nelson threatened to reopen the investigation that occurred during Chamberlain’s administrative leave unless Davis dropped her formal grievance that she was unfairly demoted within the department’s dispatch hierarchy. Chamberlain, among other complaints, asserts that Nelson said he would “come after” him if he didn’t persuade Davis to rescind the grievance.
Jan. 18, 2011: Officers Moore, Justin Huizenga and William Charbonneau, along with Administrative Assistant Millie Whitcomb, submit written complaints about Chamberlain to Nelson, alleging that he used his supervisory position to harass employees and acted in a manner that was hostile and/or retaliatory since his demotion from acting chief.
Jan. 2011: Chamberlain meets with Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan. He discloses information about the Holcomb incident and the missing cocaine.
Jan. 2011: Thomas Tremblay is retained by the town to work with the law firm of McNeil, Leddy & Sheahan P.C. — a firm that has represented the town on labor issues — to investigate the complaints Moore, Huizenga, Nelson and Whitcomb filed against Chamberlain, and the complaints Chamberlain and Davis filed against Nelson.
Feb. 4, 2011: Nelson informs Tremblay of an additional complaint by Davis against Charbonneau and Sergeant Scott Graham, which alleges that they inappropriately ran her son’s name through the department’s computer aided dispatch system and the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System on Feb. 2, 2011 without just cause.
THE REPORT’S CONCLUSION
On May 10, 2011, Tremblay provided a complete report of his investigation. Among his conclusions:
— “Retaliation against Officer Moore is suggested based on Sergeant Chamberlain’s unwillingness to consider the Holcomb matter closed and the timing of his allegations, especially in light of the fact that others that have reviewed the matter can’t see a basis for Sergeant Chamberlain’s continued allegations.”
— “There is insufficient evidence to suggest that Chief Nelson is specifically targeting or threatening Sergeant Chamberlain and Ms. Davis.”
— “The evidence supports a legitimate law enforcement reason for running (Davis’ son’s) record, as well as other records that Sergeant Graham and Officer Charbonneau ran. There is no evidence to suggest that (Davis’ son’s) record was run to harass Ms. Davis, or her son, but it does provide an example of the level of suspicion and lack of trust within the organization.”
EVENTS SINCE THE REPORT
June 14, 2011: Nelson takes an indefinite leave of absence to undergo cancer treatment.
Sept. 26, 2011: Hoyt is brought back as interim police chief.
Oct. 26, 2011: McGuire sends a disciplinary letter to Chamberlain, in which he states: “I have determined that you engaged in behaviors that were intended to undermine and discredit your superior officer, the Chief of Police, and Officer Moore, in violation of various Town of Williston policies and General Orders.”
Jan. 23, 2012: Citing uncertainty about his future health and his desire to be closer to family in Connecticut, Nelson submits his letter of resignation, effective Jan. 31, 2012. McGuire announces that the recruitment process for a new police chief will begin immediately, with the goal of having the position filled by June 1.
Feb. 6, 2012: Chamberlain, represented by Attorney John Franco, appears before the Williston Selectboard to request that the disciplinary letter be removed from his personnel record. The matter is still pending.
McGuire told the Observer on Monday that the Tremblay report should be viewed in the context of the time period it deals with (April 2009 to May 2011), and that the department has since made improvements to operations and morale.
“The department has many good officers and non-uniformed personnel. They’re hard-working professionals and they’re dedicated to serving the community,” McGuire said. “Some of the actions addressed in the report did reflect inappropriate behavior by more than one employee, and we addressed that behavior through various types of disciplinary action.”
However, McGuire acknowledged that improvements must continue.
“There is a need for change within the department,” he said. “This is where the new chief will come in. He or she is going to be charged with the responsibility of continuing to expect more and implement various changes necessary if we want to continue moving toward a larger and more professional department.”
Interim Police Chief Doug Hoyt, who spoke to the Observer on Tuesday, echoed McGuire’s sentiments.
“I’d be personally dishonest if I didn’t indicate that there are still some hard feelings (within the department), and I think it’s incumbent upon management to do what it can to try to get the workforce focused on their primary mission,” Hoyt said. “But the calls are still being answered, they’re being answered in an appropriate way and by people who really care.”