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Kramer blasts police chief’s performance in scathing Select Board meeting report, calls for independent investigation

by | Feb 27, 2024 | Featured: News, News, Police & Fire

What began as a midyear performance review of Hopkinton Police Department Chief Joseph Bennett at Tuesday’s Select Board meeting exploded into revelations by chair Muriel Kramer that she lacked confidence in Bennett’s leadership abilities back when the Select Board voted to renew his three-year contract in 2022.

An emotional Kramer said her concerns have been compounded by the chief’s lack of presenting information about progress toward department goals. On top of that, his disclosure of an inappropriately redacted report during former HPD Sgt. Tim Brennan’s termination hearing prompted Kramer to request an independent investigation of how this disclosure transpired. Bennett would be placed on paid administrative leave if that occurs.

Identifying information about a woman who accused former Deputy Chief John “Jay” Porter of raping her while she was a Hopkinton High School student was included in this release. Porter pleaded not guilty of three counts of child rape in Middlesex Superior Court in May 2023.

Kramer stresses ‘need to right the ship’ in wake of controversies

Before Bennett’s review began, Kramer explained for the public’s benefit that usually the town manager, fire chief and police chief receive midyear reviews simultaneously. However, with Town Manager Norman Khumalo’s imminent departure for a position in the private sector and the recent appointment of Fire Chief Gary Daugherty, there only is a need for a midyear review of Bennett.

She noted that an employee’s performance must be discussed in public session, while character issues have to be brought up in executive session. In the case of the investigation of the report release, Kramer noted there may be “some nuance in between.”

The Northwestern District Attorney’s Office currently is investigating the release of the insufficiently redacted version of the Kroll report on the HPD news blog. The Kroll report called out multiple circumstances where Brennan was accused of violating HPD rules, regulations, policies, procedures and special orders. The Select Board voted to terminate Brennan at the conclusion of his Loudermill hearing on Feb. 8, which has led to some public outcry and a petition for a recall election to be held for all five Select Board members.

Bennett said his three midyear goals included community outreach and engagement, recruitment of police officers, and the promotion and professional development of current officers. Examples of community engagement included last year’s half-day hangout pizza party event for students and Bennett’s participation in the Pride Parade and on the Hopkinton Freedom Team. After a procedural delay, two veteran officers recently were promoted to sergeant.

He complimented the department’s advancements in social media outreach. Bennett said he also is working on professional development efforts. Department members have been working with the Elmwood School building team as well as the town’s Youth and Family Services Department.

At that point, Kramer told Bennett that she has “had concerns” since November 2022. She voted for Bennett’s contract because she felt the department “would be more badly positioned” at that time if she didn’t, given the lack of a deputy chief and a lieutenant. At that time, she called for an independent review of the department to identify its strengths and weaknesses.

As chair and the board’s HPD liaison, she said she has sought to provide support. Because of the constraints of Open Meeting Law, she felt she now had to raise several concerns in public about issues she said Bennett has failed to adequately address previously.

“I had concerns about your performance,” said Kramer, “but not about you or your character or your dedication to your profession or this town.”

Kramer questioned Bennett’s “ability to perform as chief.” Since he became chief, there has been no effort to fill the open lieutenant slot, which has been vacant since October 2021, she said. There has been no clear plan of succession, although this admittedly was complicated by the investigations into the conduct of Porter and Brennan.

Strengths she pointed out in 2022 were the community’s confidence in the department, well-trained officers and “new standards and accountability” in the new union contract.

Stressed Kramer: “Some of those strengths are no longer strengths, in my opinion.”

“Candidly, you appear to be struggling with your job responsibilities,” she continued. “And you did not have leadership support at the time.”

Another concern she raised is that there was an extension granted for the departmental accreditation until December. It had been scheduled to be completed in March. A second was the lack of Select Board engagement in the promotion process because the Select Board is the hiring authority.

“We needed a process to investigate and learn from mistakes to drive better policy and processes,” Kramer said. “And we needed better insight into the day-to-day function [of the HPD].”

Information on body-worn camera and drug testing policies has not been forthcoming, she added. Sergeant candidates were supposed to have been put forward in February 2023 and a lieutenant by May 2023. The sergeant candidates were not initially brought forward until September 2023, when Kramer delayed their promotion, noting the Select Board was not involved in the review process.

She detailed other conversations where Bennett failed to provide progress information on the independent departmental analysis.

Retired Holliston Police Chief John Moore was brought in as an HPD consultant in July 2023 for support. In September, she said that she, Khumalo and town counsel “were made aware that your sergeants had all signed a letter expressing concern or no confidence or something in between.” Bennett has not produced the letter to the Select Board yet, she said, nor has he produced any information from Moore on the department.

“The disclosure of protected information is its own kind of calamity,” Kramer said. “And I do think this board needs to really consider, as the public has been asking us, what we do while that investigation transpires.”

She added that the Select Board needs to reflect upon its own culpability of the release of the insufficiently redacted report. On her social media page, Select Board member Amy Ritterbusch had linked to the town’s press release that included the unredacted document. [Editor’s note: This was updated to reflect that Ritterbusch posted a link to the town’s press release as opposed to posting the actual document.]

During the public comment period, resident Timothy Boivin continued to question why the chief was allowed to keep his position when both Porter and Brennan were placed on administrative leave after allegations of misconduct against them surfaced. He asked that the Massachusetts National Guard military police be called in to take over leadership of the HPD.

A review of Bennett’s conduct, Kramer said, would have to be discussed in executive session. Bennett could request a public Loudermill hearing, as Brennan had done.

Kramer stressed there are three separate issues confronting the Select Board — the chief’s midyear performance review, the investigation on the release of confidential information, and a separate investigation into Bennett’s conduct. Khumalo said he would discuss the third matter with town counsel.

Said Kramer: “In my opinion, we have to right this ship.”

Select Board members appear blindsided by Kramer’s disclosure

“Speaking for the board, I would really have liked to have known about all this as it went along,” said Select Board member Mary Jo LaFreniere, who appeared incensed. “It just seems like you have taken the reins and just gone off all on your own on this subject.”

Kramer replied that everything she brought up had been mentioned at previous Select Board meetings, and she reviewed the back tapes “for hours.”

Vice chair Shahidul Mannan agreed with LaFreniere, noting he heard “a lot of these [allegations for the] first time.” He requested that there be a better process for allowing information to surface moving forward.

“This is a lot of information to digest,” added Ritterbusch. She questioned the chief about the body cams and drug testing effort progress.

Bennett said the policy was completed, approved by the union, “and has been in the hands of the town for a very long time.”

Member Irfan Nasrullah was not present at the meeting.

The next Select Board meeting was postponed to March 12 to allow the chief time to prepare a response to Kramer’s accusations, as well as to continue the midyear review.

3 Comments

  1. Brad Hartford

    Love small town politics.

    Reply
  2. Ruth Avallone

    It is about time something is done about the police department and chief. Too many things have been going on for too long. There are scores of people in Town who have had questionable traffic stops. The HPD has never been able to find traffic cam or body cam for evidence in court. It seems they lose a lot of “evidence”. Good job selectmen.

    Reply
  3. Dave Desilets

    This is all long overdue. I can’t believe the comments made by some of the other select board members! This information is not new. And you wonder why there is a recall in process. If it doesn’t pass, I know who I will not be voting for in the next election!

    Reply

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