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Louis R. Chatel, Jr. v. Lieutenant James Carney et al.

April 26, 2012

LOUIS R. CHATEL, JR.
v.
LIEUTENANT JAMES CARNEY ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul Barbadoro United States District Judge

Opinion No. 2012 DNH 078

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Louis R. Chatel, Jr. was fired in July 2010 after working as an officer for the Weare Police Department for approximately seven years. He brings suit against two Weare police officers, five members of the Weare Board of Selectmen, and the Town of Weare. Chatel claims that defendants are liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating his First Amendment rights. He also argues that defendants are liable for various state-law claims, including wrongful discharge, constructive discharge, and violation of New Hampshire's Whistleblower Protection Act, RSA § 275-E.*fn1 Defendants move for summary judgment. In this Memorandum and Order, I grant defendants' motion with respect to Chatel's federal claim and decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over his state law claims.

I. BACKGROUND

Chatel became a part-time police officer in October 1995 for the Town of New Ipswich, New Hampshire. In October 2000, he was certified as a full time officer. In September 2003, Chatel transferred to the Weare Police Department ("WPD"). In May 2008, he was promoted to sergeant and police prosecutor. Chatel is not an attorney.

A. The Brown Report

On October 30, 2009, after an undercover drug investigation overseen by Lieutenant James Carney, two suspects, Dio Brown and London Cohen, were arrested. Chatel alleges that Detective Frank Hebert, an investigating officer on the case, told Chatel to institute a prosecution against both suspects for possession of controlled drugs, possession with intent to sell, transportation of controlled drugs, and forgery.

On November 2, 2009, Brown and Cohen were set to be arraigned. Before proceeding with the arraignment, Chatel met with Hebert and the Weare police chief, Gregory Begin. Chatel informed Hebert and Begin that he did not believe there was a sufficient basis to bring charges against one of the suspects, Brown. Chatel then interviewed both suspects and, based on those interviews, declined to file charges against Brown.

After Chatel left the courthouse, he received two phone calls from Carney, who was angry that Chatel had not filed charges against Brown. Chatel immediately told Begin about the phone calls because he felt threatened by Carney's aggressive language and tone.

On November 4, 2009, two days after Chatel declined to file charges against Brown, Carney ordered Chatel to submit a narrative report regarding Chatel's interviews with both suspects. The narrative reports were part of Chatel's responsibilities as police prosecutor. Chatel drafted and submitted his report (the "Brown Report") on that same day.

A few days later, Carney ordered Chatel to alter the Brown Report. Specifically, Carney ordered Chatel to remove the reference to Chatel having informed Brown that based on what he had been told, Brown would be charged with possession of controlled drugs, possession with intent to sell, transportation of controlled drugs, and forgery. Chatel initially refused to remove the statement in the report. Eventually, after Carney threatened to discipline Chatel if he did not remove the statement, Chatel made the requested alteration.

Shortly thereafter, Chatel filed a grievance against Carney, alleging that Carney was creating a "hostile work environment." The Town retained an attorney, Daniel Schwarz, to investigate Chatel's allegations. Schwarz issued a report recommending the denial of Chatel's grievance. Begin adopted the report and closed the investigation.*fn2

On December 17, 2009, the county attorney asked Chatel to produce the case file for the Cohen and Brown arrests. This was a typical request from the county attorney's office. In preparing the case file, Chatel noticed that the Brown Report had been altered without his knowledge. Specifically, the last line of the report had been deleted, which had read, "[g]iven the above and with the details I was informed of prior to coming to court, I was directed to and did file a notice with the court which stated in part that Mr. Brown was being released without any of the above charges being filed against him." The report showed that it had been modified on November 18, 2009, by "JJC," which were Carney's initials.*fn3 Chatel, reluctant to send the altered report to the county attorney, instead informed Begin of the issue by memorandum, and forwarded two copies of the report to Begin. The first was Chatel's original report, which contained both the sentence that he had deleted after Carney's threatened disciplinary action and the final sentence of his report that Carney or Begin had deleted without Chatel's knowledge. The second was the modified report. Chatel drew a large "X" on the second report.

On January 12, 2010, Carney wrote a memorandum to Chatel requesting an explanation as to why he had submitted a marked up report to Begin. Chatel responded by memorandum the following day, stating that he "oppose[d] the report that [he] was ordered to change, as it does not accurately portray the facts." Chatel Mem., Jan. 13, 2010 (Doc. No. 27-6). Chatel further wrote that, "[i]n the interest of properly and accurately documenting my involvement with the defendants at court, I am reluctant to supply any report that does not accurately, clearly and truthfully reflect all the facts." Id.

On January 21, 2010, Carney issued a "Letter of Warning" to Chatel for submitting the marked up report to Begin. The letter cited Chatel for "Conduct Unbecoming an Officer." Chatel then filed a grievance with Begin regarding the letter of warning. Begin denied the grievance and Chatel appealed to the Board of Selectmen. The Board of Selectmen found in favor of Chatel on the appeal and rescinded the letter of warning.

In addition, Chatel contacted the county attorney's office concerning Carney's directive that Chatel modify the Brown Report. The county attorney referred the case to the New Hampshire Attorney General's ("AG") office. The AG's office investigated ...


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