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HPD officer candidate questions why employment offer was rescinded in August in light of officer shortage

by | Oct 25, 2023 | Featured: News, News, Police & Fire

Mel Ligon

Mel Ligon was an HPD police officer candidate.

From the time he was a teen, Melvin Ligon Jr., 47, knew he wanted to work in law enforcement. Inspired by officers he met while attending the Boston Public Schools, the Boston native devoted his career to working as a security and school police officer.

The Millis resident applied to become a member of Hopkinton’s police force in January. After completing two separate interview rounds and meeting with Chief Joseph Bennett, he said he was told by Bennett in an August phone call that his conditional offer of employment was rescinded.

Given the recent debate over the Select Board’s role in the hiring and promotion of police officers in Hopkinton and the shortage of HPD officers, Ligon is questioning why he was not selected.

“I get sort of upset about it,” Ligon said in a recent phone interview. “I have stellar references, and my work history is almost impeccable. I don’t understand what the issue is now. But when I hear different things going on between the town Select Board and the Hopkinton PD, it kind of makes me look at the town a little bit differently.”

Hiring process questioned

Ligon submitted an application in January. He said he didn’t hear anything back until April or May, when he was contacted by the town’s Human Resources Department to see if he still had an interest in interviewing for an HPD position.

The initial interview took place shortly thereafter with an HR representative and two patrol officers. Upon leaving that interview, Ligon said he “bumped into” Bennett, who invited him into his office.

“He said, ‘I really like how you present yourself,’ ” Ligon recalled. “He said, ‘I really hope I see you in an interview down the road.’”

He added that he had a favorable impression of Bennett “from day one.”

Buoyed by this interaction, Ligon said he was thrilled when he received an email two weeks later to interview with Bennett and a member of the HR team.

“I guess I got the stamp of approval,” Ligon said, because the second interview went well. He went through a thorough background check of his history over the past 15 years and a medical screening.

In late August, Ligon said Bennett called him with news about the job.

“He said, ‘I was actually dreading this phone call, but I’m going to have to rescind our conditional offer at this time’ ” Ligon recalled. “He said it was due to the recent issues he had with the deputy chief and the sergeant. They had to be really strict with their hiring.”

Ligon added that Bennett invited him “to reapply should a position open up.”

“He really seemed like he wanted to hire me,” Ligon said. “But because of circumstances beyond his control, he couldn’t.”

Ligon noted that he was unaware of other candidates, but he knew that the HPD was down nine officers at the time.

‘Hopkinton pulled no punches’

“Hopkinton pulled no punches,” Ligon said. “They told me that their department has been in the limelight in a negative way.”

When he researched the HPD, Ligon learned that former Hopkinton Deputy Police Chief John “Jay” Porter is awaiting trial on charges that he allegedly raped a student while serving as a school resource officer two decades before. In addition, he knew that Sgt. Tim Brennan was placed on paid administrative leave in May.

Said Ligon: “That’s really sad that these particular officers had to bring that particular light on the department. But I’m thinking to myself, ‘That is by no means me.’”

Ligon said he also applied to police officer positions in nearby towns where he said the hiring structure is different.

“I knew that the select boards there played a role in the hiring process, but usually the town manager has the final say,” he said. “But I wasn’t aware of the authority the Select Board has in Hopkinton.”

Ligon described his perception of the relationship between HPD and the Select Board as “oil and water.”

“When I read the story about it, it just started clicking just how bad the situation is there,” he said. “It makes me wonder that, if that’s the leadership that the town has to deal with, do I really want to work in that particular town?”

In an email to the Independent on Oct. 17, Select Board chair Muriel Kramer outlined the process she proposed for police hiring moving forward. This proposal was discussed at the Oct. 10 Select Board meeting.

“The new contract indicates clearly that the [Select Board] has the responsibility and authority to act on the chief’s recommendations to make the decision on new hires and promotions,” Kramer wrote, “and the [Select Board] has created a very simple process to consider those recommendations — a process that will work in concert with the chief’s recommendations and existing processes and not be overly cumbersome to the candidates, the chief or staff.”

This process, she explained ,“simply built in” a meeting with Bennett, an HR representative, Town Manager Norman Khumalo, and the Select Board “to discuss the chief’s recommendation(s) and speak with the candidate in advance of the public meeting to formalize the decision. This first meeting with the candidate can be in a public or executive session at the candidate’s choosing in accordance with Massachusetts General Law.”

HR DIrector Maria Casey confirmed in an email on Oct. 17 that there have been 14 applicants for police officer positions this year.

“Because of the privacy rights of individual applicants, the Town does not comment on personnel matters,” she added. “As the appointing authority, the Select Board members are continuing to review their roles in the hiring process”

The Town has received 14 applications this year. Because of the privacy rights of individual applicants, the Town does not comment on personnel matters. As the appointing authority, the Select Board members are continuing to review their roles in the hiring process.

Career of service continues

“From a very young age, I had a dream of becoming a police officer, and I took the steps to position myself accordingly,” Ligon said.

He graduated from the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science, one of Boston’s three prestigious exam schools, where he served in the Navy ROTC. After training as a Boston police cadet for about five years, Ligon became the first Marine in his family, continuing his family tradition of military service. He became a member of the military police and trained in logistics.

Upon completing his service, Ligon worked as a special police officer in August 2006 for the city of Boston, where he worked for a decade before deciding to move out of the city.

“It’s a private armed security company with the Boston Police Department that is licensed to make arrests, do patrols, and things of that nature,” he explained.

Ligon reentered the Boston Police Academy in 2013. He had to resign when he injured his left knee, tearing his ACL and meniscus. In 2017, he entered the Reserve Intermittent Police Academy. After completing 372 hours of training there, Ligon qualified to work as a special police officer. He served as a police officer in the Boston schools for almost three years.

“I left that department because of the whole police reform issue,” Ligon explained. “That department basically devolved into a security team with no police power.”

“Being a minority, I saw the benefit of having officers in the Boston Public Schools,” added Ligon, who is Black. “I saw the impact that the officers had on me when I was in school. They kept me on the straight and narrow road that I didn’t see other people going on.”

Ligon’s experience qualified him in 2021 for his current job as a university police officer in for Simmons University in Boston. While he enjoys this role, he was excited to learn about the need for police officers in Hopkinton because of a desire to work closer to home.

He added that his status was certified in the Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission list published in September. He was not on that list for any disciplinary issues. Neither was he mentioned in the state’s Brady List that cites officers involved in police misconduct.

“I’m not on any of those lists or anything like that,” Ligon stressed. “Have I had issues coming up in my work career — non-law enforcement? Sure. I’m 47 years old and I have 30 years of work experience. I don’t have a flawless work history. But is that indicative of who I am as a police officer and who I know I can be?

“Everything that could have been an issue with my work history was disclosed from the very beginning of the hiring process,” he continued. He did not elaborate on what a potential issue could have been.

Added Ligon: “While no guarantees were made by the department, it is commonly expressed in these processes to be as transparent and truthful as possible. That way anything that comes up can be addressed or explained. Which is what I believe I did. I laid out anything that could possibly have come up and made it known in hopes that it would not hinder my chances of employment.”

While he said he didn’t believe his lack of being hired had anything to do with his race, he added that the suburban departments to which he has applied have been predominantly white.

“I don’t want to say it’s that, but you can’t help but think that may have played some part in it,” Ligon said. “I didn’t get that vibe in any way, shape or form. But you never can tell.”

Added Ligon: “If I did get an offer to reapply, I would probably explore the opportunity. But I’m not getting my hopes up.”

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