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Police officer makes public plea to stay on force

On Dec. 14 Northfield selectmen listened and took notes as Attorney Michael Pearson (left) questioned his client, Patrolman Brian Brown, at an administrative hearing concerning Police Chief Steven Adams’ recommended dismissal of Brown from the Northfield Police Department. Donna Rhodes. (click for larger version)
December 22, 2010
NORTHFIELD — Despite admitting to several disciplinary infractions, including insubordination and an unauthorized ride-along, Officer Brian Brown of the Northfield Police Department has asked the Board of Selectmen to overrule the chief's request for his dismissal.

Brown and his attorney, Michael Pearson, requested the public hearing with the Board of Selectmen last Tuesday to examine charges behind an unpaid leave of absence and a request for Brown's dismissal from Police Chief Stephen Adams.

The current leave of absence is the result of an incident concerning Brown, which took place in October, but the dismissal request was the cumulative result of a series of disciplinary actions taken against the six-year veteran police officer since September of 2009, Adams said.

Attorney Paul Fitzgerald represented the chief and began the courtroom-style hearing with a review of Brown's disciplinary record over the past 14 months. Through Adams it was disclosed that Brown was first given a five day unpaid leave of absence for insubordination when he swore over the telephone at Sgt. Timothy Dow in front of a roomful of officers in September of 2009.

"I took my punishment and we moved on though. Sgt. Dow and I still have a good relationship, both professional and personal," Brown later testified about that incident.

The night of Sept. 14, 2009 Brown was also written up for leaving the Town of Northfield while on duty to search for a former girlfriend who he suspected was at Concord Hospital, leaving the town without coverage that night. When confronted, Brown readily admitted his actions to Adams and confessed he had done so not once but twice. Other incidents involved an unauthorized ride-along with a female juvenile on Sept. 25, 2010 and a failure to fill out necessary search warrants and reports in a timely fashion for a DWI case early this year.

He was also written up on a charge of insubordination, the result of a fire on Oct. 10 in a building that Brown said he believed to be a "only a garage" and not necessary to report to his superior as a "major incident," in accordance with protocol.

"Were you aware there was a man staying in that building who had to jump from the second story window?" questioned Fitzgerald.

Brown said he was not and maintained that, in his opinion as a former fire fighter in South Carolina, the incident was not "major."

Fitzgerald produced a copy of the dispatch log for that evening in which Brown said, "The place will be flat before they (the fire department) get here."

Adams said the final straw was a three-fold event. On Oct. 17 Brown was reportedly told not to use the 2009 cruiser for his midnight shift, as is policy within the department to leave the newer vehicle for daytime use when risk of damage is not as great and mileage is less. Issues with the normal late night cruiser, a 2008 model, excluded that from being used on the night in question and he was instructed, through Sgt. Mike Hutchins, to "use the detective's car or the Explorer. Whatever."

The word "whatever" was brought up repeatedly by attorneys and Brown said he took it to mean it didn't really matter which vehicle in the fleet he used. Having been permitted to use the newer cruiser the previous evening by Sgt. Dow, Brown said he felt it was okay to use it a second night, despite Hutchins directive to use one of the two other vehicles that were available.

In the course of that October evening Brown became involved in a pursuit when a vehicle failed to stop for driving 47 mph in a 30 mph zone on Fellows Hill Road. The ensuing chase led to a Class VI road and into Canterbury where he said he then decided to "pull back" from the chase and call for assistance through Belknap County dispatch.

Adams reported damage to the tire, rim and A-frame of the cruiser when Brown hit an outcropping of ledge on the road. Another infraction, besides entering into a pursuit for a speeding violation, Adams said, was that the camera in the police cruiser was manually turned off by Brown and failed to record the circumstances leading up to and throughout the chase.

"He showed bad judgment. Especially for an officer with six years experience," Adams said.

Pearson brought forward two witnesses who testified they, as officers, had not read a policy on use of the video equipment. Officer Hutchins, senior patrolman for the force, admitted he himself had turned the camera off some days while on duty. A training session on the camera, he said, did specify the equipment should be left on at all times.

Pearson then called former NPD Administrative Assistant Sally Robert forward. She stated she had no recollection of typing the policy submitted to the board as an exhibit by Adams.

"I may have done it but I don't remember. That policy has a different type then the standard type I used on policies," Robert said.

Through cross examinations Pearson attempted to show Brown was singled out for discipline in most of the incidents he was cited for. Some of the actions taken against the officer came about a few weeks after they occurred, he said.

After six hours the board ended the hearing at midnight, going into nonpublic session to discuss what was disclosed in the course of the evening. A final decision to approve or disapprove the chief's recommendation for dismissal was due at their regular weekly meeting on Tuesday, after the Echo went to press.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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