Lyndeborough police suit settled

LYNDEBOROUGH – Two former police officers have reached settlements with the town of Lyndeborough that give them each $82,500. The settlements mark the end of a conflict between former selectmen and some residents over the board’s handling of the police department.

Thomas Burke III and Paul Roy Sr. filed suit in Hillsborough Country Superior Court in 2012 citing hostile working conditions and alleging they lost their jobs after they started investigating the actions of then-selectman Donald Sawin.

The loss of the town’s two top officers threw the town into turmoil that year, prompting residents to hold a community meeting and resulting in the ultimate election to the Board of Selectman of retired Milford Police Chief Fred Douglas and retired Milford Town Administrator Lee Mayhew.

Central to the conflict was the fact that Lyndeborough at the time had an “officer in charge” instead of a police chief. An officer in charge works directly under the Board of Selectmen and has less power than a chief.

When he resigned in 2012, Burke was the officer in charge and said selectmen had told him to fire Roy, his sergeant and second in command, without reason.

Shortly after Burke resigned, then-Selectman Kevin Boette fired Roy.

According to papers filed in Hillsborough County Superior Court, Boette said at a public meeting that Burke and Roy had committed crimes by threatening Sawin, and Boette compared the officers to police in Nazi Germany. During the meeting, Boette told the group of about 25 residents that he felt threatened by the police officers and “concerned for my family.” Boette also publicly charged that the officers were “only investigating Sawin because they were upset about his votes” on police department items.

“They told Donnie they needed a decision or he would be arrested. That was a crime,” Boette had said.

At the time the selectman made his public statements, say court documents, he knew they were false because the town attorney had recommended that police investigate Sawin’s conduct.

Among the actions allegedly taken by Sawin that concerned Burke and Roy, one involved a homicide when Sawin showed up at the scene, after Burke said he didn’t need any assistance, in circumstances “that appeared deliberately calculated to cause the persons at the scene to assume that he was there in an official police capacity,” according to a report from the town attorney.

Last year the two officer added Boette’s name to the lawsuit, citing the “Nazis” remark and saying he falsely charged them with criminal activities.

The officers’ attorney, Charles Douglas of Concord, had charged that the town created a hostile work environment and that Burke’s “forced resignation” was done in retaliation “for performing acts encouraged by public policy.”

Under the agreements that were signed in late October and recently made public by the town, the $82,500 for each of the men is for wages, emotional distress damages and attorneys’ fees and costs.

The settlement also includes a non-admission clause saying it is a compromise of disputed claims and should not be understood as an admission of wrongdoing on anyone’s part.

A press release issued by the town says the settlement “represents a mutual recognition that mistakes were made and it is in everyone’s best interest to learn and move forward.”

Sawin, who is no longer on the Board of Selectmen, ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the state House of Representatives in 2012 and 2014.

By a two-vote margin in 2013 voters at Town Meeting decided to hire a police chief instead of an officer in charge.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 304, or at
kcleveland@cabinet.com.