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Mass. Officer's Hearing Begins: Garbarino's Lawyer Calls Police Chief's Allegations Baseless

By David McLaughlin, MetroWest Daily News (Massachussets)

ASHLAND, Mass. -- The lawyer for Officer Charlie Garbarino, who could be fired over a host of charges, yesterday portrayed the case as baseless and depicted the police chief as out to get to his client.

During the first day of testimony in the disciplinary hearing, Howard Lenow, who represents Garbarino, also challenged the credibility of the investigations done by two sergeants.

The hearing, which has been postponed several times, was expected to continue for another day, after which the hearing officer appointed by the town will recommend whether Garbarino should be disciplined.

An Ashland cop for 27 years, Garbarino faces a laundry list of accusations, including lying, conduct unbecoming a police officer, insubordination and trying to steal money from the town following a request for overtime pay.

Police Chief Roy Melnick, who has publicly accused Garbarino of conspiring against him, wants him fired.

Sgt. Steve Zanella, who investigated several complaints against Garbarino, testified that although Melnick "voiced his displeasure" with Garbarino, he was not out to get him.

"I know they had their differences, but I don't want to say he had it out for anybody," Zanella said.

During testimony, Lenow questioned Zanella and Sgt. David Whitney about how they could determine Garbarino lied in a complaint filed against the chief earlier this year.

Garbarino accused the chief of admitting during a a disciplinary hearing for another officer that he called former police officer Matt Gutwill his "token Jew" and his "token black."

The two sergeants, according to testimony, listened to a tape recording of that hearing and found the chief never admitted to referring to Gutwill that way.

But they also acknowledged during questioning by Lenow that Garbarino may have misunderstood what the chief said during the hearing instead of lying about it.

Still, Whitney stood by the investigation's findings and conceded that their work was conducted independently and without coercion by the chief.

"In front of Charlie and the whole town, do you believe he lied?" Lenow asked Whitney.

"With what I had at the time, I believed he lied," Whitney replied after a pausing for several seconds.

Garbarino did not cooperate with the investigation into the disparaging remarks made by the chief because he believed it was a conflict of interest for the two sergeants to investigate their superior.

He did submit an affidavit stating Gutwill complained to him in 2000 that Melnick called him his "token Jew" and "token black," statements he described as "morally (and) ethically wrong."

The affidavit also included Garbarino's statement that he heard Melnick testify during a disciplinary hearing for former Sgt. Roy Testa that he used the same remarks.

"You would have to be a blithering idiot to submit an affidavit attesting to something when you know there's a tape, right?" he asked Zanella.

"Yes," Zanella replied.

The hearing, which lasted about six hours, got heated at one point during questioning by Lenow about Garbarino's affidavit. The town's attorney, Dave Thomas, interrupted him, saying he would not allow the union lawyer to call Zanella "a liar." Lenow shot back, challenging why it was OK for Zanella to call Garbarino a liar.

"Look at the evidence," Thomas replied.

As for the overtime dispute, Garbarino put in for four hours of overtime after Melnick ordered him to answer a series of questions in writing regarding a civil lawsuit against the chief and the town. Garbarino came in on his day off to finish the questions, but the chief denied his request for overtime. Garbarino then filed a grievance.

A police investigation conducted by Zanella and Whitney determined Garbarino attempted to commit larceny by false pretenses.

During testimony, Zanella acknowledged that Garbarino could put in for overtime if he came to the station to file the report on his day off and that he followed proper procedure when he filed a grievance after the request was denied.

But under questioning from Thomas, Zanella agreed that Garbarino could have asked for an extension if he knew he could not finish the report on time or get prior approval for overtime, neither of which he did.

The next hearing date is scheduled for either Nov. 30 or Dec. 13. The hearing officer, Gerard Hayes, will submit a recommendation to the town, which has the final say over whether Garbarino keeps his job.

Thomas, who is also the acting town manager, said he would likely give the recommendation to Assistant Town Manager Dale Morris for his review, but added that "it is not mandatory" that he do so.

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