GOFFSTOWN - The board of selectmen have 15 days to make a ruling on whether police Sgt. David Rivard should be suspended for five days without pay for alleged insubordination stemming from three incidents involving Rivard and patrol officers under his command.
At a grievance hearing yesterday, Rivard's attorney, Tracy Culberson, questioned Police Chief Patrick Sullivan over his decision to suspend the sergeant, saying the department's failure to comply with its own guidelines should negate the punishment handed down. Culberson also argued that the punishment given Rivard was neither fair nor reasonable in light of the nature of the infractions.
Rivard's suspension was based on three write-ups he received for insubordination. He was twice cited by Sullivan for failing to get officers under his command out on patrol 15 minutes after the start of morning roll call, which begins each day at 7 a.m.
In another incident, a Goffstown police officer was being honored at an awards banquet at Saint Anselm College, and Rivard allowed an officer under his command to leave his route so he could go to the college and personally congratulate his colleague.
In the third incident, Rivard allowed one of his officers to leave his route early one Monday morning to congratulate Manchester police Officer Daniel Doherty, who was a guest at a radio station in Pinardville. At the time, Doherty had recently returned to duty after he was shot seven times last March by a man he was in the process of trying to arrest on the west side of the city.
According to Culberson, the third incident prompted Sullivan to issue what's called a Class 3 violation, one of the most severe that can be handed down and which involves being suspended without pay.
Police department policy is that officers are not allowed to leave their routes without permission from the police chief, Culberson said. But Culberson added that policy has not been uniformly or strictly applied in the past.
"This was an issue the chief created himself that didn't have to be created," said Culberson, who was once a police officer on the Goffstown force before becoming a lawyer. "He's picking a fight when there shouldn't be one."
Sullivan was represented at the hearing by the police department's prosecutor, Kerry Steckowych. The hearing was open to the public at Rivard's request, and it was broadcast live over the town's public access cable channel.
At one point the questioning of Sullivan turned on whether - under existing police department policy - Rivard's infractions should have been turned over to the department's internal affairs division.
"We went back and forth on the word 'should' as opposed to 'shall,'" said Culberson. "I think at the end of the day this hearing shined a light on the policies of the police department and how they get applied."
Culberson said he and his client are asking selectmen to overturn the violation and put Rivard back in the position he was in before the incidents.
"It's important for the public to know what Dave Rivard is being disciplined for," Culberson said. Citing the Saint Anselm incident, Culberson said, "Allowing a guy to leave his shift with half an hour left on it is not a major thing. That half-hour of the shift is usually a time when officers are doing their reports or cleaning out their cruisers."
Culberson said Rivard is a 22-year veteran of the police department whose personnel file is filled with commendations. "It's just sad," he said. "This guy is probably one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet."