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Former Bristol Officer Seeks OT For Attending Academy
Claims Breach Of Contract Due To Toxic Atmosphere In Police Department
By Thomas P. Caldwell
BRISTOL — A police officer is blaming the Bristol chief for his “difficult decision” to leave before completing his employment contract with the town.
Jonathan Francis, who last May filed suit in federal court seeking additional overtime pay to cover all of the hours he spent at the NH Police Standards and Training Academy, did not initially bring up his reasons for resigning and taking a job with the Franklin Police Department. It was only after the town filed its response to his complaint that Francis defended his refusal to repay the town’s investment in his training as outlined in the town’s employment contract.
Bristol, like many other communities, requires employees whom they pay to attend mandatory training to remain in the town’s employ for 36 months or to repay a pro-rated portion of the town’s investment in them.
In court documents, the town states, “The issue of sending an individual to the New Hampshire Police Academy has been a matter of concern for New Hampshire municipalities because, once an individual receives the police officer certification, the officer can seek employment in other jurisdictions, those other jurisdictions being more willing to hire a certified officers [sic] knowing that they will not have to incur the costs of sending the officer to the New Hampshire Police Academy.”
Because the town pays not only the cost of the training that advances the candidate’s career, but also his food and lodging, and keeps him on the town’s payroll while taking classes, it wants to be sure that he or she stays with the town long enough to make the investment worthwhile.
Francis, however, in an Aug. 30 response to the town, maintains that unprofessional behavior by Chief Michael Lewis and sloppy operating procedures that made his job more dangerous constituted a “failure to satisfy the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.”
Selectmen earlier this month placed Chief Lewis on paid administrative leave without offering any explanation or details.
In Francis’ court filing, he offers an example of “unprofessional behavior” by the chief. According to the document, Francis responded with NH State Police to a domestic call in which a man was threatening to kill his children with a shotgun. “Officer Francis reached for the shotgun in his cruiser. What he found was that the shotgun was not properly cleaned, and without a bullet properly chambered for immediate use, as required by standard operating procedures. Fortunately, the case was resolved without the need for Officer Francis to use his weapon.”
Recognizing that the situation could have gone much differently if he had needed a working gun, Francis expressed his concern to Lewis who, according to the court filing, “just laughed.”
Francis then circulated an email about the incident and, according to the document, “learned that Chief Lewis asked others in the Department if they had seen ‘that f--ing email’ from Officer Francis.”
“It was not unusual for Chief Lewis to voice his criticisms of officers in the Department, establishing an uncomfortable setting,” the document states. “Because of the administrative tone set by Chief Lewis and the resulting unprofessional and dangerous practices in the Department, many officers have quit their jobs with Bristol; even some who had been employed by Bristol for many years.”
Francis also had faced financial hardship from unanticipated medical expenses in his family and, together with his concerns about the Bristol Police Department, he “made the difficult decision to look for other work.”
“When Officer Francis reported in January 2017 to Chief Lewis that he was considering a job with the Town [sic] of Franklin, Chief Lewis became angry, threatening repeatedly that the Town would sue him if he left. …
“Over the next several weeks, Officer Francis learned that Chief Lewis had spoken critically to other members of the Bristol police department about him, that Chief Lewis was telling people that the select board did not want Officer Francis at the department, that Chief Lewis had been in contact with the Town attorney, that Officer Francis was going to be ‘sued big time,’ and that Chief Lewis had called the chief in Franklin advising him not to hire Officer Francis.”
Furthermore, Francis alleges that the chief used other methods to make sure he did not get hired by Franklin. When Franklin officers met with Lewis while doing a background check, they found a note in Francis’ personnel file saying he had been arrested for a violation of the open container law, which Francis maintains is not true.
“At that point, Officer Francis felt that his career was at risk if he remained employed by the Town of Bristol. He made the decision to resign.”
The filing continued, “Officer Francis asked the Town Administrator [Nik Coates] to investigate the note in his personnel file about his alleged arrest. Officer Francis believes, and therefore avers, that the Town Administrator conducted the investigation and made a report to the Select Board about it. The Town has refused to provide Officer Francis with information about that investigation or a copy of that report.”
Bristol contends that it paid Francis for all of the time at the Police Academy that was included on his time sheet, as well as $1,446.48 for overtime he later claimed. Francis, however, says he spent 71-hour weeks at the academy and he wants overtime pay for all hours beyond 40.
The Police Academy requires attendees to begin their training at 8 a.m. on Monday, but Francis said that required them to be at the academy by 7 a.m.
“Classes, physical training, and studies would take up the rest of each day from Monday through Thursday, with very little free time, until they were required to be in bed with lights out at 9:30 p.m. on those four days,” court documents state. “On Fridays, the sessions ended at different times, but usually in the afternoon.”
Francis is not the only police officer seeking payment for all of the hours spent at the academy. Vinny J. Scarnici, a part-time police officer in Pittsburg, also is seeking overtime for attending the academy. If successful, the decision would impact towns and cities throughout New Hampshire.
14 September 2017
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