FRAMINGHAM, MA — With a veteran narcotics officer set to face a disciplinary hearing later this month, town officials are battling in court to block the Framingham Police Officers Union from taking his case to arbitration.
The town is asking a superior court judge to bar the union from arbitrating Chief Kenneth Ferguson’s decision to place the officer — longtime drug task force member Matthew Gutwill — on paid administrative leave.
Gutwill is accused of being “untruthful” during an internal affairs investigation into remarks he allegedly made to the police chief earlier this year.
While Gutwill is scheduled to attend a disciplinary hearing later this month, the police union is fighting Ferguson’s decision to relieve Gutwill of duty. According to court filings, the union has asked the American Arbitration Association to intervene in Gutwill’s case, arguing the police chief violated the union’s contract by placing Gutwill on leave.
The dispute marks the latest chapter in a messy legal fight between the town and Gutwill, who alleges the chief is retaliating against him because he voiced concerns about the police department to the FBI.
In a federal whistleblower lawsuit filed late last month, Gutwill claims he “made himself very unpopular with a certain segment of the FPD” when he alleged a fellow detective knowingly lied under oath while testifying in court.
An internal affairs investigation determined that Gutwill was right, but Ferguson asked the investigating officer to change his finding, the lawsuit alleges. When the officer refused, a new investigator came up with a contradicting finding, ruling the detective did not lie on the stand, the complaint alleges.
Around the same time, Ferguson removed Gutwill from a federal drug task force, setting the stage for a contentious phone call between Gutwill and the police chief.
Gutwill allegedly told Ferguson during a Feb. 5 phone call that he was going to “blow the place up,” “turn the place upside-down” or words to that effect.
According to the town, Ferguson construed the remarks to mean Gutwill would “cause considerable controversy within the Framingham Police Department” if he was transferred off the narcotics group.
During the same call, Gutwill also allegedly told Ferguson one of the town’s deputy police chiefs had been recorded on a federal wiretap — a suggestion, Ferguson believed, that the officer was involved in criminal activity.
The town subsequently hired an independent lawyer to investigate Gutwill’s remarks to the police chief. In a pair of reports issued in August and September, the lawyer found that Gutwill “was not credible” when she interviewed him about his conversation with the police chief, and that his conduct “violated established rules and standard(s) governing truthfulness, integrity during investigations, and conduct unbecoming an officer,” according to the town’s court filings.
Ferguson placed Gutwill on leave Aug. 19 and later requested a hearing to determine if he should be disciplined or fired for allegedly making “untruthful statements” to the town’s investigator.
Both Ferguson and Town Manager Bob Halpin denied a grievance filed by the union on Gutwill’s behalf, asserting that the police chief acted within his “inherent managerial right” to place an officer on leave. The union then filed a demand for arbitration last month, alleging Ferguson disciplined Gutwill without just cause and retaliated against him for exercising his legal rights, among other things.
Gutwill is scheduled to face a disciplinary hearing Nov. 28, though it’s unclear whether the event will take place.
In an Oct. 31 lawsuit filed against the union in Middlesex Superior Court, the town claims its most recent collective bargaining agreement with the union prevents members from seeking arbitration when they’re placed on leave.
The town contends union members must appeal such disciplinary actions to the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission. Language in the union contract stipulates that members cannot file grievances regarding matters that fall under the commission’s jurisdiction, according to the town.
Records on file at Middlesex Superior Court indicate a judge has yet to decide on the town’s request for a preliminary injunction against the union.
Efforts Monday evening to reach lawyers representing the town and the union were unsuccessful.