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  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris

    Sgt. Michael Kurland leans over to look at a document with his lawyers during Thursday afternoon's hearing.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris

    Sgt. Michael Kurland leans over to look at a document with his lawyers during Thursday afternoon's hearing.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Brookline board fires police sergeant

BROOKLINE – The Board of Selectmen fired Police Sgt. Michael Kurland on Monday evening during a brief session to conclude his personnel hearing.

Selectmen voted 3-2 “to sustain” Police Chief William Quigley III’s recommendation to dismiss the sergeant based on charges Kurland, a town police officer for 11 years, had violated Police Department conduct and disciplinary rules.

Selectmen Chairman Tad Putney and Selectmen Clarence Farwell and Jack Flanagan supported the decision, while Darrel Philpot and Karl Dowling, newcomers to the board, rejected it.

Kurland plans to appeal the decision in Hillsborough County Superior Court.

“We don’t feel that the decision was fair and equitable, and he has made a decision to appeal,” said Kurland’s attorney Laurie Perreault.

Perreault said Kurland has 30 days from the day his dismissal takes effect to file.

The chief, who was hired last fall and started the job at the end of October, placed Kurland on paid leave about six weeks later.

Kurland had served as acting chief for the previous six months, after the board fired Chief Thomas Goulden, and he was a candidate for the chief’s position.

In recommending Kurland’s termination, Quigley cited multiple infractions of two Police Department codes stemming from three situations: Kurland’s purchase of slippers for his wife, charged on his uniform account and afterward paid back; his communication with a prospective new officer about his start date, without the chief’s OK; and the solicitation of a donation for the Neighborhood Watch program.

Charges included failure to display “absolute honesty” and use of his position for personal gain.

But the two selectmen who opposed the firing argued that department policies were contradictory and left room for interpretation. They also maintained that while the sergeant should have been disciplined, the charges did not rise to the level of termination.

The majority didn’t see it that way. “It wasn’t one strike and you’re out,” said Selectman Chairman Tad Putney, disagreeing that the board was creating a “Zero Tolerance” policy.

“In his letter of Nov. 15, the chief asks for details about the Ugg purchase. ‘I’m in a need of a written explanation.’ … If we could go back in time, I only wish that Mike had done that before it led to other things,” Putney said.

Quigley charged Kurland with using his position for personal gain when he purchased Ugg slippers for his wife on his uniform account while he was serving as interim chief, even though Kurland paid the bill afterward and also testified under the previous chief, such purchases had been allowed.

During deliberations last week, Philpot pointed out that the uniform allowance policy was unclear and left room for interpretation.

He stressed that point again Monday.

“It came to light that there was ambiguity in town contracting practices. … It was left open to judgments on either side, “ Philpot said.

Farwell “respectfully” disagreed.

“I think he flagrantly violated (the rules) and the general pubic expects police officers to be above” reproach, Farwell said.

Flanagan, borrowing from a quote he didn’t attribute, added “We must always do the right thing.”

Philpot argued that based on Kurland’s history with the town, including his involvement with the DARE program and the Neighborhood Watch, and his “unblemished” prior record, the board and the chief should use the situation to “look at how to make him a better officer and improve the town.”

Kurland should be disciplined, and he and the chief should learn from the experience, Philpot said.

From the beginning, Kurland requested his disciplinary hearing and the deliberations be held in public. The proceedings were also televised on the local cable access channel.

On Monday, with roughly 15 people in the audience, Philpot noted a written police department ethic strongly urges officers to “never permit personal feeling to influence their decisions.”

Quigley, however, has been accused of favoritism in hiring his girlfriend as his administrative assistant and placing her in the full-time secretary’s job, vacated after longtime secretary Celia Lingley resigned. Quigley filled the job without posting it.

Lingley, a 15-year employee of the police department, said in her resignation letter that the chief had questioned her loyalty and abilities.

During Kurland’s disciplinary hearing, a former Jaffrey police officer who said he approached Quigley about a job, said the chief harbored a grudge against Kurland stemming from a situation the sergeant had with an member of the chief’s immediate family.

In rejecting the chief’s recommendation, Philpot, a businessman who served in the Marines, said that he would expect a “supervisor’s supervisor” to consider a “range of remedies to correct behavior and improve the (employee) so he never found himself in that position again. “

Following the board’s decision, Kurland and his attorneys quickly left Town Hall and took questions for a television reporter on the front steps. They were followed into the parking lot by a small group of supporters.

Hattie Bernstein can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 24, or hbernstein@cabinet.com.