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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hudson police chief labors to defend records in former captain’s theft trial

NASHUA – Hudson Police Chief Jason Lavoie, the key witness in the theft trial of his former captain, acknowledged he can’t fully support some of the evidence presented by prosecutors.

Lavoie’s admission came under cross examination Wednesday in the third day of the trial of former Hudson Police Capt. Donald Breault, who was fired last year after being accused of profiting more than $2,600 by changing his work hours in the Police Department’s internal computer system.

Defense attorney Eric Wilson challenged the many documents Lavoie previously cited as proof that Breault manipulated his hours in the department’s system.

Wilson, at times, prompted the chief to admit he couldn’t vouch with certainty about some of the hours worked and filed by Breault.

The day ended with Wilson asking why Lavoie himself entered four hours of comp time into the system long after the fact, when he had faulted Breault for following the same practice.

“You did what he did,” Wilson said to Lavoie.

“I didn’t seek a benefit,” Lavoie said, alluding to the allegation that Breault had sought financial gain. Lavoie added that as “chief of police, I should be able to” record comp hours after the fact.

Wilson then said using those four hours of compensatory time would be a benefit. Wilson recalled how during direct examination, Lavoie told the jury that he would change his work hours to reflect comp time only days after the fact and never weeks later, as Breault had done.

“So it’s OK for you, but not for him?” Wilson said.

Lavoie responded, “Yes.”

The exchange stood in contrast to the direct examination of Lavoie by Assistant Attorney General James Vara all of Tuesday and part of Wednesday morning’s session. Vara and Lavoie painstakingly reviewed scores of payroll and internal department records that prosecutors say prove Breault cheated the system.

In cross examination, Wilson tried to disprove the Police Department’s record keeping and question Lavoie’s memory.

“Looking back at just a couple of these, they aren’t as reliable. There are parts that aren’t reliable,” Wilson said to Lavoie about some of the documents supporting the 10 misdemeanor computer charges facing Breault. He also faces a felony theft charge of stealing more than $1,000.

The Hudson police chief and the department’s two captains are salaried, so overtime hours are accumulated as unpaid comp time and can be used at a later date. Officers in these positions had recorded their comp hours in an internal program, and could enter or alter these types of hours after the fact because of the logistics of working overtime.

Breault is accused of manipulating his hours so he could build a large comp-time bank and thus use his paid vacation, holiday and sick time sparingly.

Wilson defended Breault, saying there were no set rules on when he had to record comp hours, and thus he didn’t break any policy, which Lavoie agreed with. Wilson has pointed to how Breault recorded his comp hours on a desk calendar and entered or changed them in the system every once in a while, which he argues isn’t proof of any wrongdoing.

Wilson also challenged Lavoie’s accusation that Breault added comp hours that he didn’t work and occasionally padded his hours in the system.

One of the 10 computer charges that Wilson reviewed with Lavoie in cross examination was Breault filing comp time for a budget meeting after his regular shift.

Answering Wilson’s question, Lavoie, on one hand, said he was “suggesting” guilt for that particular charge, but on the other hand, couldn’t say with certainty that Breault was or wasn’t working extra hours to help prepare the department budget.

Reviewing another charge, in which Lavoie claims that Breault added five hours to a work day, Wilson asked if it wasn’t possible that Breault stayed late at the department to prepare for a budget hearing. Lavoie said it was possible.

Lavoie also acknowledged Breault could have been at police headquarters in the hours immediately after the December 2008 ice storm. Prosecutors had shown a list of key-card times for Breault entering and exiting headquarters and claim he wasn’t there before his shift but filed for comp time. Lavoie acknowledged to Wilson that another employee could have let Breault into the building on the morning after the storm.

Lavoie previously said he didn’t hear Breault on the scanner as police responded to downed trees and other hazards created by the ice storm.

On another charge, Wilson pointed to how Lavoie signed off on Breault working a full 40-hour week although he knew Breault had taken a vacation day during that week.

Breault’s payroll sheet didn’t reflect a vacation day request, “So why did you approve it knowing he had a day off?” Wilson asked Lavoie.

Lavoie said he didn’t have all vacation requests in front of him when he signed off on payroll to be delivered each week to Town Hall.

“You didn’t know your second in command wasn’t there?” Wilson asked Lavoie.

Wilson then said Breault went back into the system to change that he had taken a vacation day and didn’t work.

“If he was trying to steal from the town of Hudson, wouldn’t the best thing he could have done was shut up?” Wilson said to Lavoie.

Wilson will finish cross examining Lavoie today .

Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-5832 or amckeon@nashuatelegraph.com