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State labor board rules Meriden Police Department justified in firing captain

State labor board rules Meriden Police Department justified in firing captain

reporter photo

MERIDEN — The State Board of Mediation and Arbitration recently ruled the city had just cause to fire former police captain Patrick Gaynor, who was terminated in 2017 following a series of lengthy investigations that concluded Gaynor made a number of “reckless” and “untruthful” allegations against Police Chief Jeffry Cossette.

In an arbitration award issued March 10 and recently made public, a three-arbitrator panel upheld conclusions of prior investigations that Gaynor engaged in a “pattern of untruths and reckless disregard for the truth … all in his quest to bring down (Cossette).” 

“The termination of any employee is a serious matter,” the panel’s decision reads. “The termination of a police captain with 20 years of service who was previously involved in the arrest and conviction of the Chief's son requires an especially high degree of scrutiny. The grievant was provided an extraordinarily wide latitude over the twelve days of hearings to provide any evidence, even with the most tangential relevance, to rebut the City's evidence supporting its decision to terminate his employment. In full and careful consideration of all the evidence and argument, we find that the City has met its burden to fully demonstrate by a clear preponderance of the evidence that it had just cause to terminate the grievant.” 

Gaynor referred comment this week to his attorney, Daniel Esposito. 

“We are very disappointed with the decision,” Esposito wrote in a prepared statement emailed Friday afternoon. “… There was no deliberate deception on the part of Captain Gaynor and the panel failed to adequately consider the doctrine of progressive discipline. In its decision, the panel also cited offenses for which Gaynor was never charged.”

He continued, “Regardless of the panel's findings, Gaynor is a man of great fortitude, as evident by his service in the United States Marine Corp and his meteoric rise through the ranks of the Meriden Police Department. It is without doubt that Gaynor will continue to excel in any and all future endeavors.”

Gaynor, who started with the department in 1996, was fired in June 2017 after a series of internal and external investigations found he violated department policy by, among other things, making a number of “reckless” and “untruthful” allegations against Cossette that were found through investigations to have little or no factual basis. Gaynor alleged that Cossette over the years had treated him unfairly to get back at him for his role in the criminal trial of Cossette’s son, Evan Cossette, a former Meriden police officer who served 14 months in prison after video footage showed him pushing an inmate into a concrete bench in a holding cell. 

The police union contested Gaynor’s termination by filing a grievance to the state labor board in 2017. Police union president John Wagner couldn’t be reached for comment. The arbitration panel held 12 hearings for the case, an unusually high number, from November 2017 to May 2019 before issuing its decision this month on the jointly submitted issue of, “Was the termination of Patrick Gaynor for just cause? If not, what shall the remedy be?”

The city’s contract with the police union stipulates that no permanent employee shall be removed without just cause. Gaynor in his appeal argued that while his allegations against Cossette turned out to be inaccurate, he didn’t knowlingly made false statements. He also argued that the allegations were protected under the First Amendment.

“We respectfully assert that, though some level of discipline may be appropriate, it cannot be said with certainty that Gaynor was dishonest, and no policy … required Gaynor’s termination,” Gaynor’s attorney argued in a brief. 

The panel, however, wrote in its award that while it considered imposing a less severe punishment, members were “convinced the pattern of conduct exhibited by (Gaynor) would not be corrected by a demotion, retraining, or a disciplinary suspension without pay.”

This conviction partly stemmed from an incident during the arbitration proceeding in which, the panel wrote in its award, Gaynor was “clearly untruthful” while testifying under oath about certain facts of the case. The panel also wrote in its award that Gaynor on one occasion tried to “steer” a witness’ testimony during a hearing, “rendering both complicit in providing false testimony before this panel.”  

Pending lawsuit

In a prepared statement, City Attorney Stephanie Dellolio said, “The city is pleased with the Panel’s thorough decision and grateful to the city’s outside counsel, Michael Rose, who worked tirelessly to ensure the best possible outcome.”

Read the arbitration award.
Gaynor can appeal the panel’s award by filing to have it vacated.  

“Though we are weighing our options,” Esposito said, “matching the economic might of the City is proving difficult.”

Rose said the city is filing to have the arbitration award “confirmed” by a Superior Court judge, which would make the decision final. 

In addition to his state labor board case, Gaynor also contested his termination by filing a pending federal lawsuit against the city and Cossette. Cossette declined to comment because that lawsuit is still pending. Cossette is scheduled to retire this summer after about 40 years with the department, including the last 15 as chief.  

If the arbitration award is confirmed in Superior Court, Rose said it could strengthen the city’s case in Gaynor’s civil trial. 

According to the city’s Finance Department, Gaynor receives an annual pension of $61,379. The city has no plans to revoke or reduce it, according to Rose. Under state law, a public official or employee can only have their pension reduced or revoked if they’ve been convicted of or plead guilty to a crime related to their official duties. 

Gaynor and Cossette’s legal conflict largely originated in June 2015, when Cossette denied a request from Gaynor to sign up for a police leadership training course offered by Northwestern University, citing budgetary considerations. Despite Cossette’s denial, Gaynor, who was working as the city’s emergency communications director at the time, went ahead and signed up for the course at a cost of $4,000 plus a registration fee of $165. When Cossette later found out that Gaynor signed up for the course in 2016, he launched an Internal Affairs Investigation into possible policy violations of insubordination and misappropriation of public funds. 

Soon after learning of the IA investigation, Gaynor responded by filing a complaint against Cossette in which he alleged Cossette had retaliated against him for his involvement in Evan Cossette’s criminal case.

Once Gaynor filed his complaint, Cossette recused himself and the city brought in Charles Reynolds, a former police chief in New Hampshire, to act as a third party hearing officer. Reynolds did not substantiate the misappropriation of public funds charge but did substantiate the insubordination charge, and strongly urged that Gaynor, who had been placed on paid leave, modify his behavior. The city then hired an outside law firm to look into Gaynor’s allegations of retaliation. That investigation concluded the “totality of the evidence reviewed does not support, and in many instances is contradictory to a finding of retaliation.” Gaynor had put forth upwards of a dozen incidents in which he alleged Cossette retaliated against him for his involvement in Evan Cossette’s trial, ranging from unfair performance reviews to Cossette removing Gaynor from special duty assignments.

Upon receiving the firm’s findings that Gaynor’s allegations were baseless, then city manager Guy Scaife ordered an Internal Affairs investigation into whether Gaynor violated department policy by making the unsubstantiated allegations against Cossette. Reynolds was again brought in to act as a hearing officer in that case. Based on the IA investigation findings, Reynolds ultimately recommended Gaynor’s termination.

“The overriding thing was the reckless disregard for the truth, you know, how he didn't engage in fact-finding and truthfulness, which is the stock in trade of a police the only option I had was to recommend termination,” Reynolds said in testimony to the arbitration panel, according to the award. 

Missing guns, phone records

In upholding Reynolds’ decision, the arbitration panel noted that Gaynor was “clearly untruthful” when testifying under oath during the arbitration hearings about conversations he had with city resident Chris Dingwell about an incident in which firearms went missing from the department in 2015.

Gaynor’s phone calls with Dingwell came up during the proceedings because one of Gaynor’s many complaints was that Cossette issued him a “gag order” not to talk to the media. Shortly after it became known in the department that the guns were missing, Gaynor used his city-issued cell phone to have several lengthy conversations with Dingwell, who “maintained a Facebook account in which he posted many and diverse happenings in the (police department and city),” the award states. Gaynor had four phone calls with Dingwell lasting more than 20 minutes around that time, according to the arbitration award, however, Gaynor testified that he did not tell Dingwell about the guns and that their conversations were solely about “parking problems at a school.” 

“That untruth was only one of a pattern of untruths and reckless disregard for the truth the grievant declared, all in his quest to bring down the Chief,” the panel wrote in its decision.

The panel also noted that when Dingwell testified in the arbitration hearing, “it was readily observable that the grievant attempted to steer Dingwell's testimony before us, rendering both complicit in providing false testimony before this panel.”

Last year, the Record-Journal reported that Gaynor, if he gets his job back, could face new discipline resulting from Internal Affairs investigations that found he violated department policies by “surreptitiously” recording other members of the department on two occasions, including a meeting in which Cossette placed him on administrative leave after learning he signed up for the training course. The Internal Affairs investigations were conducted after Gaynor was terminated, and the Record-Journal received a copy of the investigations last year through a Freedom of Information request.

Those investigations are still open and are subject to Gaynor’s employment status. 

mzabierek@record-journal.com203-317-2279Twitter: @MatthewZabierek

"That untruth was only one of a pattern of untruths and reckless disregard for the truth the grievant declared, all in his quest to bring down the Chief."

-Board of Mediation and Arbitration decision