Mayor Roxann Wedegartner, Friday, issued the following statement:
“I’m here today to speak directly to the residents of Greenfield on recent events brought about by the decision in the ongoing legal matter of Buchanan & Dodge v. City of Greenfield as well as the separate legal matter that caused Police Chief Robert Haigh and Lieutenant Todd Dodge to be put on paid administrative leave and the combined effect of those events on us as a community. I will speak candidly.
“First, I want each person in our city, whether I have heard directly from you or not, to know that I understand the concerns you have and I take them to heart. This city must go to great lengths to see that it takes care of all the people who live and work here. These last three weeks have been very disheartening, but also revealing for our community. Make no mistake, I understand the gravity of the jury’s decision citing racial animus. There is no place for racism in our city; that is not the first time I’ve said that and it will not be the last. So, on a personal note, to those who say I don’t understand racism is pervasive in our society, I say you don’t know me, you don’t know my background, and you don’t know what I’ve done in my life to fight racism. Let’s take the time to know one another before we point fingers and accuse.
“In the last few years that I have come to know Chief Robert Haigh and the women and men of the Greenfield Police Department, I know they do their jobs daily with professionalism and respect for the people they encounter. So, hearing the words “racial animus” as the basis of the jury award is not only painful for me, but for the women and men of the Greenfield Police department, and for Chief Haigh. We cannot escape it; there it is in front of us. While I believe the City’s police department under Chief Haigh, has made great progress in the last several years in its understanding of what it means to achieve and practice racial justice for all of the people of our city, we have more work to do. We cannot and will not go backward, we can only move forward.
“While I can’t direct the course of the legal process, I can determine how best to ensure that the culture of the police department is not racially biased and help strengthen the department’s resolve to foster racial justice and equity internally and externally. To that end, I’m announcing today that I will officially seek an independent audit of the Greenfield Police Department. I do so with the full agreement of Acting Police Chief William Gordon and Police Chief Haigh. With racial bias, discrimination, and gender equity as the primary rationale, the audit will cover organizational structure and governance, operating policies and procedures, department culture, hiring and promotional practices, professional standards and accountability, budgeting and planning. Our search will be done as a competitive bid process as required under Massachusetts General Laws governing procurement. I invite the City Council to join me in making this a priority for our city.
“Now let me turn to the more legal aspects of this case. The events leading to the civil case, Buchanan & Dodge v. City of Greenfield, occurred under the previous administration of Mayor William Martin. Regardless of when it occurred, as Mayor it is now my personal and professional responsibility to handle the outcome of the decision. I must do so carefully so as not to create any further liability for the City and its residents. Some of the details of this legal matter must remain confidential at this time. Unfortunately, and most frustrating, is the fact that the judicial system operates slowly. I accept the decision as it stands now. I have no animosity towards retired Officer Buchanan. He felt he was discriminated against and he had every right to his day in court. I wish him well in his retirement. Keep in mind, however, in criminal cases a jury returns either a guilty or not guilty verdict. That is not a criminal case; it is a civil case. In civil cases the jury 'finds for the plaintiff or the defendant' and recommends damages, usually a monetary reward.
“While I know it is hard for people to understand, returning a decision in this case is but one step in the legal process that the case will follow. At this point, the decision has not received a judgment. Attorney Leonard Kesten is the attorney retained by the City’s liability insurer, MIIA, on behalf of the City. Legal fees and any judgment award will be paid by the insurance company. In every legal case, there is a right of appeal or to request a new trial, if events that occurred in the trial warrant another trial. The attorney and the insurance company believe that the city and Chief Robert Haigh did not receive a fair trial. The decision on how to proceed based on that belief will be made by them, not the city. However, I do believe that the fundamental bedrock of justice in this country is that everyone receives a fair trial.
“Something I would also like to clarify about this case is that Patrick Buchanan and Lieutenant Dodge were tied together as co-plaintiffs. The jury heard their cases together and both men had legal representation by separate attorneys. As a plaintiff in the case, Lieutenant Dodge was also seeking a monetary award from the jury. When the jury returned their decision in Lieutenant Dodge’s case, they found in favor of the City of Greenfield. In other words, they did not believe his claim that the city had retaliated against him in violation of the Massachusetts Whistleblower Law.
“As of yesterday, Lieutenant Todd Dodge is no longer on paid leave of absence and is back on the job as a member of the Greenfield Police Force. With the potential layoff of up to 8 patrol officers, Acting Chief William Gordon and I thought it was wise to put the Lieutenant back on the job. The investigation into the allegations brought forth continues, however.
“I have heard the calls for me to fire Chief Haigh and Lieutenant Dan McCarthy, who is not now nor was he ever a named party in the case. His name was invoked often in testimony as were others, but he was not on trial. Removing either Chief Haigh or Lieutenant McCarthy is not as simple as saying, ‘You’re fired’ Donald Trump-style. Even if I decide to remove Chief Haigh from his duties as Police Chief, he is a Civil Service employee, and it would have to be done by following established procedures. Dan McCarthy was at the center of a controversy around displaying a Confederate flag in his garage seven years ago. While I find the idea of displaying an expressed symbol of racism disgusting, the reality is it is a constitutionally protected right and not an offense he can be fired for under his contract. Additionally, he is a member of a union, and there are procedures that must be followed when officers don’t live up to their sworn duties.”