MANCHESTER — City officials and the police officers’ union appear to have agreed on whether a “proven racist” cop can return to the police force. They’re just not saying what the decision is.
According to documents obtained by the New Hampshire Union Leader this week, both sides have backed away from a full hearing before a state labor board over whether Aaron Brown, who was fired in April 2018, should return to his job. An arbitrator already has ruled in Brown’s favor.
That ruling was made despite evidence that Brown, an officer of 11 years, went as far as to joke about shooting Blacks.
“Besides, I got this new fancy gun. Take out parking tickets no problem. FYI ‘parking tickets’ = black fella,” Brown texted his wife in 2017, when she worried about him working on an FBI case in Boston.
Two months later, he sent his wife video of a “crackbunny fight” and wrote: “I am certainly not a racist. I have my proclivities about people ... but those folks are straight up n’s ... no two ways about it. Serve no place in life or society. And yet they are completely taking over all parts of daily life.”
The texts were sent from Brown’s department-issued cellphone.
The New Hampshire Sunday News last year reported those texts as well as another in which Brown used the “N-word.” At the time, Mayor Joyce Craig said the texts were offensive and have no place in the community. Police Chief Carlo Capano would not comment, calling the situation a personnel matter.
Craig’s office and the police department would not discuss whether Brown will be rehired.
“As (City) Solicitor (Emily) Rice informed you yesterday, the Brown proceeding is confidential,” wrote Lauren Smith, Craig’s chief of staff, in an email on Wednesday.
“The chief does not have a comment,” police spokesman Heather Hamel said on Tuesday.
Most disputes over terminations are kept secret under state personnel laws. But when either management or labor brings a case to the Public Employee Labor Relations Board, it becomes public. Earlier this week, the Union Leader asked the PELRB for records relating to the Brown case.
In late December, an arbitrator told the city to rehire Brown and award him all back wages except 30 days, which represented a suspension. When Capano refused to do so, the Manchester Police Patrolman’s Association filed its case with the PELRB. Throughout the winter and early spring, both sides submitted papers in the case.
“The City respectfully submits that (the PELRB) should refrain from using its statutory authority to force the City to reinstate a proven racist to serve as a Manchester police officer,” the city’s lawyer, Mark Broth of Manchester, wrote in March.
In his filings, the union’s lawyer, John Krupski of Concord, stressed that the contract with the union calls for an arbitration decision to be binding and final. He did not return a telephone call and email from the Union Leader. Efforts to contact the president of the union were unsuccessful.
In late May, both sides informed the PELRB they had entered arbitration once again, and the only issue that remained was back pay. A PELRB hearing is scheduled for Sept. 21.
Brown was a police officer for 11 years and worked with the department’s Special Enforcement Division, which includes the street-crime unit, SWAT and undercover drug investigation.
In 2018, then-Chief Nick Willard fired Brown and another officer in the Special Enforcement Division, Darren Murphy, after allegations that they coerced a Manchester woman into sex.
The city has paid $45,000 to settle claims brought by the woman.
Rice would not answer questions this week about any case Murphy might have brought against the city. No such case is on file at the PELRB, in the state court system or federal court. However, arbitrations are not conducted in a public forum.
Murphy was an undercover detective in the drug unit. His termination prompted prosecutors to drop 35 drug-related cases, which they said could not move forward because of Murphy’s damaged credibility.
This week, the Union Leader filed a Right-to-Know request with Manchester police seeking access to the personnel files of Murphy and Brown. Recent state Supreme Court rulings have bolstered access to such files.
Last week, city police rejected a request for the Murphy and Brown files by the American Civil Liberties Union, in part because both are engaged in litigation against the city, the department said.
Both Brown and Murphy remain certified police officers in a technical sense, according to David Parenteau of the Police Standards and Training Council. But in reality, their status is in limbo until their arbitrations are resolved, he said.
If either were to land a job with another agency, the council would hold a hearing about their certifications, he said.
Nearly everyone working in law enforcement in the state must meet standards and training benchmarks established by the council.