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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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White Withdraws From Williamstown Select Board Race

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Nicholls "Niko" White has removed himself as a candidate for the Select Board.
 
White had to run for the last year of the term being vacated by Jeffrey Thomas and had gained enough signatures to be placed on the ballot for the annual town election. White said he had announced to run for office when no other candidates had stepped forward and it appeared that the elected office would be uncontested or lack a strong progressive candidate. 
 
But as of last week, it had turned into a four-way race.
 
"I decided to campaign to make sure my positions were represented in the field," White said in announcing his witgdrawal from the race last week. "And now we have an embarrassment of riches in that regard. If we had ranked choice voting or another alternative to first-past-the-post, I'd view my candidacy as an asset regardless. So many folks have told me they're glad I'm running, and were eager to turn out for me. Unfortunately, we do use first-past-the-post here, which means I have to worry that by staying in the race, I will instead split the progressive vote at a critical time. I'm not willing to risk that."
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