MERIDEN — Former police captain Patrick Gaynor, who is contesting his July 2017 termination before the state labor board, could face new discipline if he ultimately gets his job back.
Following a recent decision by the state Freedom of Information Commission, police released internal affairs investigations that found Gaynor violated department policies by “surreptitiously” recording other members of the department on two occasions, including a meeting in which Police Chief Jeffry Cossette placed Gaynor on administrative leave on Sept. 2, 2016.
A separate internal investigation found Gaynor also secretly recorded a conversation he had with Deputy Chief Timothy Topulos on Sept. 5, 2016, after retrieving items from the police department while on leave. During the conversation, Gaynor told Topulos he would “go after (Cossette) personally and professionally” for putting him on administrative leave.
In response to a request for comment, Gaynor’s attorney, Daniel Esposito, wrote in an email, “The taxpayers should be furious that in a time of such economic uncertainty, the city has chosen to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to disparage one of its finest administrators.”
“Pat Gaynor has been a hero to all whom he has served and that will never change,” said Esposito, who is representing Gaynor in his wrongful termination case before the state Board of Mediation and Arbitration.
Gaynor did not return a request for comment.
City Attorney Debbie Moore found Gaynor’s audio recordings in April 2017 while preparing documents in response to a “voluminous” Freedom of Information request submitted by Gaynor himself. Moore found the recordings because Gaynor emailed them to his personal email from his police department email, Sgt. Chris Fry wrote in the internal affairs documents.
Upon learning of the recordings, Cossette ordered Fry to complete an internal investigation. Gaynor admitted to Fry during the investigation that he used his cell phone to secretly record the meetings. Gaynor was never disciplined or given a disciplinary hearing regarding the recordings because those investigations were still open at the time he was fired in 2017 for separate policy violations.
Police denied the Record-Journal’s request for the internal investigations, four in total, last year, arguing the investigations should be treated as preliminary drafts and exempt from public disclosure because Gaynor hadn’t yet been disciplined and would be entitled to a disciplinary hearing if he ultimately got his job back. The Record-Journal filed a complaint last year to the FOI Commission, which ruled on Jan. 9 that the investigations should be disclosed. The Record-Journal also obtained Gaynor’s audio recordings under the FOI ruling.
Fry, who completed all four IA investigations, also found Gaynor violated policy by not turning over his recordings as part of two investigations for which the recordings would have been relevant. One of the investigations was completed by an outside law firm into a complaint submitted by Gaynor shortly after being placed on leave in September 2016 that alleged Cossette had retaliated against him and other department members. The other investigation was later completed by Fry to determine whether Gaynor violated department policy by submitting the complaint against Cossette, which was found to be “not supported by evidence.”
Cossette said in a recent phone interview that the recordings Gaynor possessed were relevant to an investigation into Gaynor’s claim that Cossette retaliated against him because Gaynor alleged Cossette intentionally embarrassed him by “parading” him around the police department when he was placed on leave. The recording of the meeting, Cossette said, “totally contradicted” Gaynor’s account. Gaynor can be heard on the recording speaking loudly at times while walking out, at one point telling other department members that being put on leave “is crushing to my manhood.”
“It totally contradicted what his accusations were,” Cossette said. “When you have evidence in your pocket that is exculpatory, and you choose to withhold that evidence, that is not only a violation of policy but (calls into question) his integrity.”
Fry found that Gaynor also withheld the recordings during the internal police investigation into whether Gaynor violated policy by making the allegations against Cossette.
Gaynor told Fry in May 2017 that he didn’t disclose the recordings because he forgot about them during the time of the investigations. Fry, however, noted in the investigation that Gaynor’s claim is “not chronologically consistent” because Gaynor emailed one of the recordings to himself on March 27, 2017, approximately two weeks before Fry completed his investigation. Fry also wrote that Gaynor could have disclosed the recordings after the investigations were completed.
“Despite Cpt. Gaynor’s belief that the recordings would have no bearing on a closed investigation, I do not believe an investigation that has formed a conclusion is immune from new and relevant information,” Fry wrote. “This sentiment is a founding philosophy behind criminal defense projects used to exonerate wrongly convicted individuals across the country.”
“In-part Cpt. Gaynor alleged that the way in which he was placed on administrative leave created undue embarrassment,” Fry wrote. “… In the face of conflicting testimonials of that day, the recording which Cpt. Gaynor possessed is the most accurate, available, and impartial record of events as they transpired that day.”
Gaynor, hired in 1996, was initially placed on administrative leave on Sept. 2, 2016, by Cossette, who initiated an internal investigation the day before. The investigation probed whether Gaynor misused public funds and acted insubordinately by registering for a $4,000 online course offered by Northwestern University. Cossette initially denied Gaynor’s request to register for the course, but Gaynor later registered for it while temporarily working as the supervisor of the city’s dispatch center, a position that allowed him to register for the course without Cossette’s permission.
Gaynor charged the tuition cost to the dispatch center's budget, separate from the police budget, assuming he would eventually become the center's permanent supervisor, the decision said. When someone else was named permanent supervisor, Gaynor again asked Cossette to fund the training, which Cossette denied.
Cossette ordered former detective lieutenant Mark Walerysiak to conduct the investigation on Sept. 1, 2016. The following day, Gaynor was placed on administrative leave for "interfering" with the investigation by trying to discuss it with Walerysiak. Walerysiak on Sept. 21, 2016, submitted his findings to former New Hampshire police chief Charles Reynolds, who the city hired to act as a hearing officer and recommended discipline based on Walerysiak’s findings. Reynolds on Nov. 4, 2016, concluded Gaynor did not misuse public funds but did act insubordinate. Gaynor received a “supervisory letter of counseling” as a result and returned to full duty the following day.
On Dec. 20, 2016, former City Manager Guy Scaife placed Gaynor on leave again, pending an investigation into whether Gaynor violated department policies by filing his complaint against Cossette the same day he was placed on leave in September 2016. Gaynor’s complaint alleged Cossette retaliated against him for testifying in the federal brutality case of Cossette’s son, former police officer Evan Cossette. An outside law firm hired by the city to investigate Gaynor’s claims found there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support Gaynor’s allegations. The firm’s findings led to Gaynor being placed on leave again. The investigation into whether Gaynor broke policy by filing his complaint against Cossette was submitted in April 2017 to Reynolds, who eventually recommended Gaynor’s termination in July 2017.
Gaynor told Fry he recorded the meeting during which Cossette placed him on leave because he “didn’t think the honest … version of what happened was going to be supported by anybody else in that meeting.”
The meeting was also attended by Topulos, police union president Detective John Williams, and union vice president Sgt. John Mennone, according to Fry’s investigation. Cossette can be heard on the recording explaining to Gaynor that he is being placed on leave and asking him to surrender several items, including his weapon. The recording, which was started a few minutes prior to the meeting and continued after Gaynor was escorted out, included the voice of 11 members of the police department, Fry wrote.
“Throughout the entire recording, although (Gaynor) was displeased with the course of the events, I did not find anyone else was overtly rude or discourteous,” Fry wrote in the investigation.
Gaynor told Fry while he was aware of the department’s policy against secretly recording, he would have needed Cossette’s approval to record any department member or a court order.
“I can’t seek the chief’s permission to record that particular meeting because he was involved in the meeting,” Gaynor told Fry.
Fry interviewed all 11 members heard on the recording as part of his investigation. Director of Emergency Communications Doree Price took “particular exception” with the recordings, stating she has worked in the public safety realm for 30 years and has never been recorded without her knowledge, the investigation said. Price was personally offended, Fry wrote, and found the behavior “underhanded and deceitful.”
The second recording, titled by Gaynor as “Pick Up Medication From Vehicle,” includes a conversation Gaynor had with Topulos a few days after being placed on leave. Gaynor told Topulos about his displeasure with no longer having a department vehicle at his disposal while on leave and said he thinks the city should reimburse him for any out-of-pocket expenses, the investigation said.
Gaynor goes on to tell Topulos about his intentions to have Cossette removed as chief by filing a complaint against him to the city manager.
“He’s gonna either retire, or he’s gonna be on administrative leave,” Gaynor said according to the investigation. “And, and I’ve sat eating s--t sandwiches for a long time, and so has everyone else. But I’m done eating them.”
Later in the conversation, Gaynor tells Topulos, “The same thing that I told to (former police chief) Bill Abbatematteo, I’m gonna tell to Jeff Cossette. Pack your s--t, ‘cause I’m gonna own that house. You don’t get to treat me like this. I didn’t do anything wrong to deserve this. And I’m gonna go after him personally and professionally. I mean, I mean, this is absolutely preposterous. It’s, it’s, it’s outrageous. Look at the front page of the paper. The news media is all over the place. I can’t get another job if my life depended on it right now because of the way he worded that letter and the allegation that he made.”
Gaynor admitted to not receiving Topulos’ permission to record the conversation. Topulos told Fry in an interview that he recalled interpreting Gaynor’s comments to mean that Cossette was going to “suffer some kind of consequence at Pat’s hands” because he placed Gaynor on leave.
Gaynor is currently suing Cossette for retaliation. His wrongful termination case is still being litigated, Esposito said.