Town Hall, One North Main Road, Otis, MA 01253-0237
(413) 269-0100 ext. 112 Fax (413) 269-0104
October 10, 2017
Board of Selectmen
Select Board Meeting Minutes of September 12, 2017
Present: Don Hawley, Gary Thomas, Chirrs Morris, Austin Joyce, Jeremia Pollard, Roberta Sarnacki, Chip Whiting
Meeting called to order at 6:15 p.m.
Don Hawley chaired the meeting and began by stating that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss complaints about Police Chief Sarnacki’s communications with two members of the public in regard to an incident involving a minor as well as how the incident was handled. Selectman Hawley noted that Bill Hiller was recusing himself because of a personal relationship with the individuals making the complaints. Selectman Hawley offered the Chief the opportunity to have the meeting conducted in executive session but Chief Sarnacki declined.
Selectman Hawley stated that he felt that one of the text messages the Chief sent to one of the parents of the minor had a tone that was unprofessional. He questioned the need to be communicating in text instead of in person and felt that the complaint could have been avoided if the communication had been in person. He questioned the use of text messaging witnesses in general. Town Counsel Jeremia Pollard indicated that it was difficult and perhaps impossible to avoid texting in the age of electronic communication. People text the police chief and expect to texted back. In his opinion, the kind of language used by the Chief was common in police questioning. He further stated that he did not believe the Chief had violated the Town’s social media policy.
Selectman Gary Thomas expressed concern about a proposed written agreement between the police department and the minor’s parents. He felt the agreement looked like blackmail as it appeared the Chief was being lenient in exchange for the parents’ dropping their complaint about the Chief. Town Counsel indicated that police departments have wide discretion in regard to how they charge individuals. He also said that written agreements could be problematic because individuals who were not offered such an agreement may claim that fhey were being singled out for prosecution. Chief Sarnacki indicated that the department’s overall policy has been one of leniency toward minors being charged with a first offense because they wanted to see minors given a second chance rather than getting a record for a minor offense.
Selectman Hawley raised a second complaint in regard to an alleged high speed chase of the minor who was on a dirt bike. Officer Whiting recounted his response to the incident. He said he was approaching a four way intersection in a cruiser towing a trailer with the Town’s electronic speed board. There was a second vehicle approaching the intersection from the opposite side of the intersection. Then an individual wearing a helmet and riding a dirt bike ran a stop sign and passed between the two oncoming cars at a high rate of speed. He stated that he believed the rider was very fortunate not to have been hit by either vehicle. He said he then turned on his lights and siren and attempted to pull the individual over. He stated that he did not pursue at a high rate of speed because he was towing the trailer and that he did not go faster than 25 miles an hour.
Selectman Hawley expressed frustration that the use of electronic communication by the police chief was again causing controversy although it appeared that the Town’s policy had not been violated. He said the Chief needed to act professionally at all times. The Chief acknowledged that one of the texts was stronger in tone than necessary. Selectman Thomas noted that he was prepared to take action based on the complaints.
Chief Sarnacki suggested that making one of the Selectman a liaison to the Police Department could improve communication with the Board. Selectman Hawley stated he would meet with her anytime. Town Counsel suggested that a written contract between the Town and the Chief would facilitate the resolution of issues with the department.
The meeting adjourned at 7:14 p.m. with no formal action taken in response to the complaints.
Christopher S. Morris
Cc: Board of Selectmen