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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Attorney General investigating Lyndeborough police department

LYNDEBOROUGH – The town administrator confirmed Friday that the state attorney general’s office is looking into issues concerning the Police Department.

Burton Reynolds said the investigation also was interwoven in other things and that he couldn’t talk about specifics.

“Eventually, the attorney general’s office will say something, and it will be public,” he said.

Police Department issues came up in the minutes of a March 21 nonpublic selectmen’s meeting that show a disagreement between two board members and Capt. Thomas Burke, the town’s officer in charge. Burke called the officer-in-charge system “dysfunctional” and “not in compliance with state law.”

Lyndeborough has an officer in charge, rather than a police chief, as the result of a town vote several years ago.

In February 2007, Police Chief James Basinas was placed on administrative leave, and he was fired by the board that April.

Selectmen received a court order to temporarily reinstate Basinas until a trial in February 2008, but before the trial could take place, townspeople voted at a special Town Meeting to eliminate the position of police chief, effectively ending Basinas’ career in Lyndeborough. Burke was hired as the officer in charge in 2011.

Burke’s comments March 21 came as he and two selectmen were talking about the possible resignation of one of the department’s officers. Selectmen seemed adamant that Burke delay letting the man go, and Burke seemed equally adamant that the officer shouldn’t be employed here.

Burke also complained that the officer in question is inappropriately “communicating with someone on the board of selectmen,” because the man refers to “stuff going on at the PD” and that “we’re keeping it close to the vest.”

“It’s obvious to me that (the officer) is communicating with someone on the board of selectmen who has been telling him to hold off (with the resignation), when that is interference with the operations of the Police Department,” Burke said.

Burke, a 30-year police veteran, formerly of the Bedford Police Department, also expressed unhappiness with the way board members were dealing with him.

“I feel a sense of abandonment by you guys,” he said, according to the minutes of the nonpublic session. “I don’t think I got a fair shake in it. I wasn’t given an opportunity to give you the total picture of what I had to deal with.”

Board member Kevin Boette said Friday he can’t discuss personnel issues, and that he had no comment about the personnel issues or the attorney general’s investigation.

Only two selectmen were present at the meeting because Donald Sawin recused himself “so there would be no hint of anything improper” because the discussion was about police personnel, Boette said.

Sawin was a part-time Lyndeborough officer who took a leave of absence from his job after being elected to the board of selectmen in 2010.

Police Department issues came up at the April 4 selectmen’s meeting when resident Lee Mayhew, a retired Milford Town Administrator, questioned the board about the status of the department and the selectmen’s use of nonpublic meetings. Mayhew suggested a general meeting to discuss the Police Department because, he said, “The current setup barely, if it does at all, meets statutes of the state.”

But Boette said the question of having an officer in charge versus a police chief is a nonissue as far as the board is concerned.

Having an officer in charge has been reviewed by the town attorney and found to be legal, he said.

“Right now, a police chief (in New Hampshire) is God and has more power than a judge,” he said.

Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice said Friday that if her agency were conducting an investigation, “We wouldn’t confirm or deny it.”

Board Chairman Arnold Byam couldn’t be reached for comment.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 304, or kcleveland@cabinet.com.