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Police commissioner on Goodwin scheme: 'Good for him'

Portsmouth sued for trying to silence whistleblower in $2.3M inheritance scandal

By PAT GROSSMITH
New Hampshire Union Leader

July 15. 2015 11:17AM
John Connors, a former Portsmouth police officer and neighbor of Geraldine Webber's, testified that he complained to the Portsmouth Police Department that Sgt. Aaron Goodwin was 'up to no good.' (Rich Beauchesne/Pool Photo)

CONCORD - Auxiliary  Portsmouth police officer John Connors is suing city officials, including the police chief, alleging they violated his free speech rights by placing him under a gag order after he blew the whistle on the allegedly unethical activities by a Portsmouth police detective who inherited the bulk of the multi-million dollar estate of Connors' elderly next door neighbor.

Connors retired in 1995 after a 22-year career but worked occasionally as a part-time auxiliary officer.  He filed the civil rights lawsuit on Tuesday in U.S. District Court against Police Chief Stephen DuBois, Police Commission Chairman John F. Golumb, police commissioner Gerald Howe and the city.



"The police department has received and is reviewing the lawsuit. We cannot comment further on pending litigation," said DuBois in an email.

 
In the lawsuit, Connors says beginning in August 2010, he continually reported to police what he viewed as the unethical activities of Detective Sgt. Aaron Goodwin, who he frequently saw visiting Connors' elderly and wealthy neighbor Geraldine Webber, who was in her 90s and suffering from dementia.

In late September 2010, when Connors reported for work at the station, he learned police were at Webber's home the previous night for a reported prowler. Connors told police Webber's mind was wandering and she was imagining it because she "wasn't all there." After that event, he says Goodwin began increasingly visiting his Shaw Road neighbor.

In October 2010, Connors ran into Atty. James Ritzo, Webber's long-time legal counsel. He mentioned the frequent visits by Goodwin and told Ritzo that, in his opinion, Goodwin was spending too much time visiting Webber and that he was up to no good, according to the lawsuit. Ritzo told Connors that Webber's will could not be changed due to her mental condition.

About 20 days after the prowler incident, Connors met Webber at her mailbox. She told him she had met the man of her dreams, that she was in love with Goodwin, who is in his mid-30s, and would marry the policeman (Goodwin). Connors told her that would never happen.

On Oct. 18, 2010, Connors brought his concerns to then-police chief Lou Ferland but the chief told him he should stay out of it, according to the lawsuit. He then told DuBois, who at the time was deputy chief, but he did not respond, according to the lawsuit.

Next, Connors stopped at the home of Commissioner John Russo, who lived near him, and told him of his concerns. "I was wondering where all the police cruisers were going," Russo responded. Russo, according to Connors, said Webber had plenty of money and if Goodwin could get some of it and get away with it, "Good for him," according to the lawsuit.

In early January 2011, Connors believes someone reported him to the Attorney General's Office as stalking Webber. He called Assistant Attorney General John McCormack who told him he was being looked at but was not the center of any investigation. Connors told the prosecutor Goodwin was acting against the law and should be investigated.

Seven months before she died, Webber changed her will, leaving the bulk of her $2.7 million estate, including a waterfront home, to Goodwin. The home later was sold for $820,000, according to Atty. Paul McEachern, who represents Connors.

A court case disputing Goodwin's inheritance is pending in 7th Circuit-Probate Division-Dover. Webber's will was challenged based on her lack of testamentary capacity and undue influence by Goodwin.

After news stories were published in the Portsmouth Herald, Connors decided to speak publicly about the situation and an article appeared in the Aug. 3, 2014 Sunday edition. In it, Connors alleged Goodwin visited Webber's home in an unmarked police cruiser "hundreds of times" before she died. Goodwin, Connors said, knew he was watching because sometimes he would take photos of him while other times he would take his dogs outside.

"I wasn't being nosy," Connors was quoted in the article. "I was watching a crime as far as I was concerned."

Goodwin denied Connors allegations.

Two days after the article ran, police served Connors with a "Notice of Complaint" charging him with violation of media policy, insubordination, and malfeasance. He was ordered to no longer speak publicly about the Webber matter and was told he was a police officer 24 hours a day.

McEachern said Connors didn't work as an auxiliary police officer from the time he was charged with violating media policy until last month when he volunteered to work the Portsmouth High School graduation. That same day, McEachern said, DuBois issued a finding that Connors had violated the department's media policy and ordered him to undergo training on it.

Connors says in the lawsuit that he remains under what amounts to a permanent gag order, having been told he needs DuBois' permission to speak out on the Webber matter.

McEachern says Connors learned about what was going on with Goodwin and Webber because he was her neighbor, not because he was a police officer, and says he spoke out because it "was a matter of public interest."

Goodwin was fired last month after an investigation headed by retired Judge Stephen Roberts found he had violated department regulations and the city's Code of Ethics, all related to the inheritance.



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