UPDATE: Interim Town Manager Charlie Blanchard reported Thursday morning that the disciplinary hearing has been postponed to Wednesday, Oct. 27. The Select Board held an emergency executive session on Thursday morning to discuss strategy "with respect to collective bargaining or litigation on a police matter" and did not return to open session.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town Thursday will hold a disciplinary hearing against a police sergeant who has filed a discrimination complaint against the town with the commonwealth.
The attorney for Sgt. Scott McGowan on Wednesday announced that McGowan has filed a new complaint against the town with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, alleging that he was placed on administrative leave last winter as retaliation for allegations he raised in a 2019 MCAD complaint and subsequent federal lawsuit against the town, the former town manager and the former police chief.
The town, meanwhile, has scheduled a disciplinary hearing for McGowan for Thursday. McGowan's attorney said Wednesday in a news release that McGowan is exercising his right to make the virtual hearing open to the public.
At press time, the town did not respond to requests about how the public will be able to access the hearing, and no link was available in the calendar section on the town website.
The hearing and the new MCAD complaints are the latest steps in a contentious relationship between McGowan and his employer that has ramifications for town government and public conversations about race and policing in the town of 7,500.
In November 2019, McGowan filed an MCAD complaint against the town that he later withdrew and used as the basis for a federal lawsuit against the town, former town manager and former police chief for allegedly violating his rights as a whistleblower.
In December, he withdrew the federal lawsuit after the then police chief announced his departure.
McGowan's 2019 claim alleged the town denied him a promotion to lieutenant because he blew the whistle on various incidents of sexual misconduct and racist behavior at the Williamstown Police Department.
Those incidents, some of which went undenied by the town in court filings, sparked a community conversation about conduct at the WPD and ultimately led to the departure of the former chief and town manager.
"On Dec. 15, 2020, Sgt. McGowan voluntarily withdrew his complaint from federal court, in the hope that under new leadership, the town would be able to move forward and build a stronger and more productive working environment at the WPD," reads a news release from Boston attorney David A. Russcol.
"Instead, the [new] charge states that the town retaliated against Sgt. McGowan for his legally protected activity in filing discrimination and and retaliation complaints. The charge states that, after Sgt. McGowan dismissed his complaint in court, the town used a complaint filled with misunderstandings, misstatements and inaccurate allegations as the basis to place Sgt. McGowan on an extended period of administrative leave and ultimately seek his termination."
The complaint charges that the town's action against McGowan — taken after former Police Chief Kyle Johnson's departure from the town service and while Jason Hoch was continuing to serve as town manager under a separation agreement — was more harsh than the disciplinary action it took against those involved in the misconduct alleged in his original MCAD complaint.
At the time McGowan was placed on paid administrative leave, Hoch said the move was "not disciplinary" and was intended to to allow time to investigate allegations against the sergeant.
This month, McGowan received notice of disciplinary charges against him and was informed the town had scheduled a hearing "to consider whether or not [McGowan] should be terminated from [his] position as a police officer," according to the MCAD filing.
McGowan alleges that claims of misconduct alleged by fellow officers that the town cited as reasons for the administrative leave are "false," "retaliatory" and "ridiculous."
McGowan's filing with the MCAD alleges a complaint filed on behalf of other WPD officers was tied to McGowan's exposure of illegal use of the Criminal Justice Information Service by members of the department.
"This misconduct resulted in investigations by [acting Police Chief Mike] Ziemba and state authorities, and led to discipline against multiple officers only days before the complaint was submitted," McGowan's MCAD complaint reads. "On information and belief, at least one department employee observed McGowan looking for CJIS manuals and policies just before the CJIS abuse became public, and other officers soon came to understand that McGowan was responsible for the discovery of the issue."
McGowan's complaint to the commonwealth alleges that members of the WPD leaked the allegations against him to The Berkshire Eagle and denied the leaks during a subsequent internal affairs investigation by then acting [now interim] Chief Ziemba.
"At least some of these denials were false, indicating that some of the full-time officers sought to damage McGowan's reputation and were willing to break the rules to do so and lie about their actions to the police chief," McGowan's latest MCAD filing reads. "This should call both their motivations and credibility into question."
McGowan's new MCAD complaints indicates he is seeking unspecified damages for "lost wages and benefits, reduced future career opportunities, reputational harm, and other damages."
Interim Town Manager Charles Blanchard did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the town about the latest MCAD complaint.
Update: Blanchard said the hearing has been "postponed" to 2 p.m. on Thursday and a link will be made available that morning. "Sgt. McGowan has the right to have tomorrow's hearing open to the public," Blanchard emailed to iBerkshires.
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The initiative grew out of a recent listening session several DIRE Committee members conducted at the Harper Center. They heard a number of concerns, including issues with parking, interpersonal conflicts in the apartment complex and the need for cooling station access during extreme weather.
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