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Williamstown Sergeant Placed on Administrative Leave

Staff ReportsiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A Williamstown police officer who filed a federal lawsuit over harassment claims last year is now being investigated for an employee complaint against him. 
Town Manager Jason Hoch confirmed on Saturday that Sgt. Scott McGowan was placed on paid administrative leave this week. 
"The leave is not disciplinary," Hoch said, but was done while the personnel matter is investigated. 
McGowan was removed from active duty on Monday. 
The leave was first reported Friday by The Berkshire Eagle, which also revealed several run-ins McGowan had with the law 20 years or more ago. 
McGowan, a full-time police officer in the town since 2002, last year named then Chief Kyle Johnson, Hoch and the town as defendants in a suit alleging discrimination and retaliation against a whistle-blower in federal court last year. 
He alleged that officials named in the suit had allowed or covered up incidents of racism and harassment in the Police Department and then had discriminated against him for reporting them. 
The federal suit came after he filed a case of sexual assault against Johnson with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination the year before.
The lawsuit caught the Select Board off-guard and the resulting uproar within the community lead to both Johnson and Hoch's resignations. McGowan dropped the federal suit after Johnson stepped down; Hoch is leaving in April.
Hoch said Johnson's departure and McGowan's leave has spread the force a little thin. 
"There's very little capacity built into the system to cover being short multiple officers," he said. "With one of the two vacancies being the chief, it's not quite as challenging. That position was supplemental capacity to cover open shifts from time to tome as opposed to holding a regular duty shift."
Police Lt. Michael Ziemba has taken over as acting chief while the community debates not only how it will fill the position but what it expects from its new chief. It is also having the Police Department's policies and allegations reviewed.
The Eagle on Friday detailed three police reports on McGowan, two involving drinking and driving. The first was on April 9, 1997, when he drove onto the walkway at Thompson Chapel and damaged the lawn. The reporting officer described McGowan as "argumentative" and smelling of alcohol but not "under the influence" and he was allowed to leave. 
The second was more than a decade later, on Nov. 20, 2009, when he was stopped by Vermont State Police in Bennington for erratic driving. According to court records cited by The Eagle, his blood alcohol level, taken two hours later, came in under the 0.08 limit at 0.065. He was charged with negligent operation and his ability to drive in Vermont was suspended for a time.
A more significant incident was a charge of domestic assault from 1999 in North Adams. His then girlfriend told police he had thrown her against a wall and then to the floor during an argument about nude photos he'd found of her; McGowan claimed she had awakened him and hit him and he'd pushed her to the floor to calm her down. 
She was given a restraining order against him and a year later he admitted to facts sufficient to warrant a guilty finding, the case was continued without a finding and he was ordered to get counseling. He was a part-time officer in Williamstown at the time.
The Eagle spoke to former Police Chief J. Michael Kennedy Jr., who said he viewed McGowan as "a major liability" and recommended against hiring him full time. 
McGowan was hired by the next chief and promoted to sergeant two years later. 
His attorney, David A. Russcol, told The Eagle that McGowan did not know the complaint against him. 

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Historic Store at Five Corners Reopens in Williamstown

By Brian RhodesiBerkshires Staff

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Under new ownership and management, the Store at Five Corners reopened Tuesday morning for the first time in more than two years. 

The store and cafe, built in 1770 and located in the town's Five Corners Historic District, had been closed since July 2020. The 252-year-old building, originally a tavern, went through several recent owners before being purchased by the nonprofit Store at Five Corners Stewardship Association in January of this year. 

"It took us a few months to get it to where it is right now but I feel like our hard work paid off," said store operator Corey Wentworth. "I feel like it's really nice in here." 

The association had done an email survey of residents in October that had an 85 percent return, with most giving the store a high rating for its importance to themselves and the community and that it remain independent. The nonprofit, first working through the South Williamstown Community Association, has been working to raise the more than $1 million needed to purchase the property and secure its future. 

The stewardship association chose Wentworth as the store's new operator in April. He has several years of experience in restaurants, including the Salty Dog and Flour Bakery and Café in Boston, Duckfat and Fore Street Restaurant in Portland, Maine, and Tourists resort in North Adams.

There were some renovations, Wentworth said, to get the building ready for reopening day. Additionally, he noted that works from local artists are displayed on the walls across the store. 

"So far, it seems like, what we have been working toward, is working," he said. 

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