LYNDEBOROUGH — A new lawsuit by former police chief James Basinas is adding to the debate over whether the town should bring back the position of chief
Basinas, who lives in Hagerman, N.M., is suing former police administrator Richard Darling and the town of Lyndeborough over so-called “Laurie” issues raised by Darling with the Hillsborough County Attorney’s office.
Basinas was placed on administrative leave in February 2007 and fired in April of that year. In June of 2007, Basinas petitioned the Hillsborough County Superior Court to get his job back, and in September, the court found that the town had not proved sufficient cause for termination and ordered Basinas reinstated, but in October, the judge agreed with the town’s attorneys that the issue deserved a full trial. He reinstated Basinas on a temporary basis, and scheduled a full trial for February 2008. Upon Basinas’ return, all members of the police department quit, took a leave of absence or went on vacation.
Frustrated at the court’s decision that essentially left the town without a police force, Kevin Boette, then a member of the budget committee and now a selectman, started a petition to hold a special meeting to eliminate the position of police chief, a move that would ensure that Basinas would not be returning to Lyndeborough regardless of what the judge ruled. In December, voters did away with the chief’s position. The town and Basinas settled out of court in 2008.
During Basinas’ forced absence from the department, Richard Darling was brought in by the board to serve as police administrator, overseeing the daily operations of the department. According to the new lawsuit filed by Basinas earlier this month, Darling reportedly made allegations regarding Basinas to then-county attorney Marguerite Wageling and had said that Basinas had “Laurie” issues, or issues with is credibility that would interfere with his ability to prosecute a case. The County Attorney’s office keeps a “Laurie List” of police officers, said the lawsuit filed by Atty. Timothy Goulden of Hyatt & Flynn in Salem.
Being on the Laurie List is akin to being “blackballed” and cost Basinas job opportunities, said Goulden. He argued that Darling should have removed Basinas’ name from the Laurie List when the court ruled the town fired him without cause, and by not doing so, Darling and the town forced Basinas to take a lower-paying job in New Mexico, forfeit his health insurance and retirement benefits, sell his home at a loss, and suffer other injustices. Basinas has requested a trial by jury and has asked that Darling’s assets in the amount of $2 million be attached prior to the trial. Darling did not return calls requesting comment.
For Boette, this new lawsuit from Basinas is more evidence that small towns like Lyndeborough are at risk when they hire a police chief because it can be incredibly difficult and costly to let them go.
Basinas wasn’t necessarily doing anything egregious that led to his firing, said Boette. But he was doing things that weren’t in the best interest of the town, including commuting in a police cruiser between Lyndeborough and his home in Pelham, coming in at 10 a.m. and leaving at 3 p.m., and not setting the alarm at the station so the selectmen couldn’t monitor his comings and goings, Boette said.
“In 2007 we had our whole police department quit because of a bad chief,” said Boette. “You need to catch the chief doing something really bad to get rid of them. There is no good way to get rid of an underperforming chief.”
It’s his experience watching the Basinas case, Boette has adopted a rigid stance that so long as he is a selectman, there won’t be a police chief in Lyndeborough. That stance has gotten Boette in trouble with some in town who believe the current system is flawed and ripe for conflict.
The recent firing of Sgt. Paul Roy by the board and the subsequent departure of the town’s first OIC, Capt. Thomas Burke, has illustrated the problems some people, including resident Lee Mayhew, see as inherent in a system where there isn’t a clear separation of powers.
Mayhew is a proponent of restoring the position of police chief. He believes Boette’s concerns are unfounded and aren’t reinforced by Basinas’ new suit. The problem with Basinas, Mayhew said, was that he wasn’t properly vetted before he was hired because the town decided to conduct the hiring process on their own instead of spending money to conduct a thorough search.
“You get what you pay for or do not pay for,” said Mayhew.
Lawsuit or no lawsuit, Lyndeborough needs “a professional to run this department,” instead of “the untrained attempting to ‘manage’ the department,” Mayhew said.