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Waltham councilors table request for $20k for LaCroix internal investigation

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  February 4, 2013 10:00 AM

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Citing uncertainty about the timing of an internal affairs investigation of the Waltham Police Department on the incidents leading up to Thomas LaCroix's arrest, the Finance Committee of the Waltham City Council tabled its decision to appropriate $20,000 for the investigation.

LaCroix was arrested by Maynard police in June for allegedly assaulting his wife and a female neighbor during two separate incidents that month. He was placed on administrative leave with pay, which he is still receiving. His trial date was set for Feb. 13, but acting chief Keith MacPherson said the Middlesex District Attorney's office pushed the date to late March.

Waltham officials could not immediately provide information on how much LaCroix is being paid, but according to a Globe story he was making $138,808 in fiscal year 2009, which included educational incentives and other additions.

MacPherson and Mayor Jeannette McCarthy asked City Council last month for $20,000 to hire an independent consultant to conduct an internal affairs investigation to find out if LaCroix broke any police department rules or regulations. The findings would aid McCarthy in determining whether LaCroix should be fired and stop collecting pay.

Some city councilors on the Finance Committee, as well as councilors sitting in on the meeting, said that they felt uncomfortable Monday night appropriating the taxpayers' money because if LaCroix is found guilty by a courtroom, the whole investigation would be moot.

MacPherson told councilors that if LaCroix is found guilty, the crimes he is being charged with would stop him from obtaining a license to carry firearms, and therefore he would not be able to perform police duties.

"All of a sudden we're in a hurry, but it wasn’t a hurry until now," said the committee's chairman, Thomas Curtin. "Let’s see the end of the movie play out, and then decide whether to write a critique or not."

However, MacPherson said the money would help an outside investigator study courtroom testimony and work that into an independent report. He said an independent consultant would be needed because having a lower-ranked officer, including himself, investigate the chief could be an inherent conflict of interest.

"It would not be appropriate for all those subordinate in rank to attend court and take notes on the testimony," MacPherson said, noting that those lower in rank could have the opportunity for a promotion if LaCroix was found guilty. "That is part of the reason for hiring an independent investigator to sit in the courtroom, to listen to the testimony, to take notes, and to use that in a report."

MacPherson also noted that internal investigations could help clear an officer of accusations.

He also said that even if LaCroix was found not guilty by a court of law, there still could be internal repercussions for LaCroix's actions.

When asked by numerous councilors, including state Representative Thomas Stanley, why the investigation is being brought up now and not earlier, MacPherson cited several reasons. He said that he did not want to bring it up first, since he was subordinate in rank to LaCroix; he pointed out that Maynard police reports, which were impounded for some time after the incident, were only just recently made available to Waltham police; and he said that criminal proceedings were crucial to the internal investigation.

After the meeting, MacPherson said "there is a likelihood" that officials will discuss lowering the amount needed to hire an investigator. He also said that the city can obtain transcripts from court, rather than sending an independent investigator to take notes, and then have either the mayor or an outsider comb it over.

"It should be the mayor or an independent party," he said. "No one from the police department should review it."

Both councilors and MacPherson pointed out the rare circumstance for the police department to ask the committee for funding.

"This is not archetypal," MacPherson said. "I've been here 33 years, and it's rare for a police officer to be charged criminally."

City councilors will add the agenda item on appropriating the money to upcoming Finance Committee meetings.

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