Police Chief Accuses Selectman of Conflict of Interest

April 10, 2015
by Barbara O’Brien

Windham Police Chief Gerald Lewis has accused Selectman Ross McLeod of creating a conflict of interest by providing legal representation to an individual arrested and charged with disorderly conduct this past December.  Attorney McLeod took exception with Lewis’ allegations, however, arguing that there was no conflict of interest.

Chief Lewis brought the allegations to the forefront during the April 6 selectmen’s meeting.  Lewis said he usually enjoyed addressing town officials, but such was not the case on this particular evening.  “I’m not so thrilled to be here tonight,” Lewis said.  From that point, tempers flared and tensions rose.

Chairman Al Letizio, Jr. attempted to mollify everyone by commenting how glad they should be that they live in a country where such issues can be brought out in public without fear of repercussions.  “We don’t get to have this discussion in non-public,” Letizio noted, because the allegation involves a public official.

Lewis said that the conflict of interest came about when McLeod acted as defense attorney for an individual being prosecuted by Windham Police in Salem District Court.  The prosecutor was Heather Newell, an employee of the Windham Police Department.  According to Lewis, the alleged victim in this case has also expressed concern about McLeod’s representation of the defendant.

Lewis also complained about a motion filed in district court by McLeod, alleging that the Windham Police Department had engaged in vindictive prosecution; thereby sullying the reputation of Newell.  Lewis said that Newell has been “unjustly maligned” and asked selectmen to investigate the situation.

“There’s no conflict here,” McLeod said, stating that he believed Lewis was confusing the term.  “What is the conflict?”  McLeod wanted to know, and then suggested that a copy of the court record be obtained to clarify the issue.  “Do we even want to go down this rabbit hole?”  McLeod asked his fellow selectmen.

McLeod said that he performs both his job as an attorney and his elected position as selectmen with morals, ethics and integrity.  McLeod was re-elected to his third term as selectmen just last month.  “As a citizen of Windham, I want cases to be effectively prosecuted,” McLeod said, adding that he has no complaints with the local police department.

According to McLeod, the judge who presided over the case in Salem District Court told both sides of the case that there was no conflict of interest with McLeod serving as the defense attorney.  McLeod said he is no longer the defendant’s attorney, however, as the case was transferred to Rockingham County Superior Court in Brentwood, as the result of probable cause having been found.

Chief Lewis also asked that, moving forward, McLeod be asked to recuse himself from any decision regarding the police department.  “The decision whether or not to recuse myself is entirely mine,” McLeod responded.  “This is a blatant attempt to bully me off the board,” McLeod continued.  “I’m not buying it!”  McLeod said he felt that he was being bullied and harassed by the allegations.

Selectmen wanted to know if the case couldn’t have been handled by another jurisdiction, other than Windham.  Reportedly, such an occurrence did take place last year.  “We don’t have the conflict,” Lewis said.  “It’s not our obligation to hand a case off to another jurisdiction.”

Selectman Bruce Breton seemed appalled by the confrontation and moved to shut down the discussion.  “The selectmen have no jurisdiction in this issue,” Breton said.  “I just want to say the hell with it and move on!  Let the legal minds fight it out.”  Breton also said he didn’t want the argument to tarnish the reputation of either side of the controversy.  Selectmen then voted 5 to 0 to end the discussion without further comment.

Lewis was visibly agitated by the board’s decision not to allow any further discussion.  “You know what’s sad?” he asked, as he sat back down.  “You say you respect me, but you never even gave me a chance to respond.”

Selectmen then moved into non-public session with Chief Lewis and Captain Mike Caron in order to discuss disparaging remarks allegedly made by McLeod in regard to certain members of the Windham Police Department.  Since this was a personnel issue, under the Right to Know Law, it was required to be held in non-public session.