Alderman accused of politically-motivated investigation into Auburn dumping
MANCHESTER — A recently released report suggests that a city alderman elected in November has led a politically motivated criminal probe aimed at an official in Auburn.
Alderman Bill Barry, who won a hard-fought race for the Ward 10 seat, works as a part-time police officer in Auburn. The town has been rocked by allegations that Road Agent Michael Dross illegally buried several tons of waste at the town's former dump. (See related story.) Barry has led the investigation into the alleged illegal dumping. His involvement in the case, which began in the spring of 2013, was not raised during the campaign.
Last week, the Auburn Board of Selectmen released an independent report it commissioned that concluded that Dross, "more probably than not," was not involved in the dumping and didn't know about it.
The investigation, conducted by Concord attorney Craig Staples, concluded that the confidential informant who originally made the allegations against Dross was likely involved in burying the waste or had "contemporaneous knowledge" of it.
Rift a key factor
The 14-page report proposed that a key factor in the handling of the case by Auburn police was tension between the department and Dross. A rift had opened between them, the report notes, after Dross in 2011 opposed increasing the rate officers were paid for road details.
"The police effort to tie Dross to the burial of solid waste at the landfill is probably politically motivated or retaliatory in nature," Staples wrote.
The report notes that Barry told the New Hampshire Union Leader in October 2013 that Dross "either is responsible for or had knowledge of the dumping."
The report notes that "it is highly unusual, and probably a breach of the department's standard operating procedures, to publicly discuss ongoing police investigations."
The allegations of illegal dumping first surfaced last spring, prompting the town to hire a contractor to unearth the site, revealing several tons of material, including tires, old appliances and a trash bag. While off-limits for dumping, the road agent uses the site for a garage and to store road salt; a portion of the property is also used by police as a shooting range.
The confidential informant who first made the allegations of dumping is identified in the report as Darren Weatherbee, a contractor who had worked intermittently for the road agent.
Staples' report notes that an "on and off" city employee, Kevin Heald, had told Barry, a day after he resigned from his job, that he witnessed Dross using an excavator to dump "televisions, computers, tires and other debris," which had been at the site for some time.
But Staples points to several inconsistencies in the accounts of the two witnesses, Weatherbee and Heald. Staples notes, for example, that Heald told him that he saw Dross operating the excavator at this site, but didn't see him put anything in the hole. He also notes that Weatherbee and Barry gave different accounts about who drew the map identifying where the waste was buried: Weatherbee said Barry drew it based on his guidance; Barry said Weatherbee drew it.
Later in the report, Staples questions the motivations of Weatherbee and Heald. He notes that shortly before the dumping investigation began, both Weatherbee and Heald had "falling out(s)" with Dross. Staples noted that neither reported the alleged dumping at the time it occurred, and that "Heald now works with Weatherbee."
Barry, who worked for more than two decades in the Hillsborough County Sheriff's office before taking the Auburn job, said on Monday that he could not discuss the report because his investigation is still ongoing.
Dross was unavailable for comment Monday.
Following the release of the report at the selectmen's meeting last week, he said the affair has "been hell," and that he was weighing legal action against his accusers.