Thursday April 7, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The Police Department drug investigator implicated in a regional criminal probe of steroid possession and personal use remains reassigned to patrol duty -- on the midnight shift by his choice -- indefinitely, Police Chief Michael J. Wynn confirmed on Wednesday.

In his first formal public statement on the scandal that has rocked the department, and in a discussion with Eagle reporters and editors, Wynn sought to address "stories fueled by rumor, innuendo and speculation" about the case against Officer David P. Kirchner of Lenox.

The chief also expressed frustration that such "stories" -- though not in The Eagle, he emphasized -- have persisted "despite the department's efforts to remain above the sensationalism by responding only to those stories and those inquiries that we could address with fact."

The Pittsfield department's five-day administrative investigation yielded two internal charges against Kirchner: criminal misconduct and conduct unbecoming an officer, said Wynn.

Kirchner "has accepted responsibility on both of those charges and waived his right to appeal," Wynn said. "Barring new information, based on the information we were given, it's a closed case."

The findings were based on Kirchner's electronic text messages, Wynn said. Prior to his reassignment, Kirchner was suspended for a week without pay, the maximum a police chief can impose under civil-service regulations.

The case against Kirchner, a former plainclothes narcotics investigator for the Pittsfield Police Department Drug Unit and the Berkshire County Drug Task Force, and a Massachusetts State Police officer, Sgt. Daniel R. Gale of the town of Washington, remains under investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. A state police investigation against Gale also continues.

Acknowledging that charges of possession of steroids, a class E misdemeanor under state law (the least-severe classification), could still be filed against Kirchner as a result of the federal investigations, Wynn defended the integrity of his department's "120 hard-working and dedicated professionals."

"Whenever some members of an organization are cast in an unflattering light," Wynn stated, "it is easy to paint the entire organization with the same, wide brush. Such gross generalizations are unfortunate and unfair."

Asked how public trust and confidence in his department can be restored, Wynn responded: "This is not my proudest moment as an agency head, obviously. This is a black mark and I get that. But it's an anomaly, an isolated incident. I would stake the reputation of this police department in our criminal investigations and our clearance rate against any police department in the commonwealth."

"We'll recover from this," he went on, "and I hope the public understands that. We didn't walk away from this. We didn't hide from it."

Wynn cited official documents about the probe made available to The Eagle, which provided information about the departments internal investigation of Kirchner. The documents were heavily redacted, he explained, because there is "active, current investigative material contained in them."

He maintained that the punishment meted out to Kirchner "exceeds the punishment that most non-law enforcement personnel would receive under similar circumstances."

"I agree we should be held to a higher standard, and I think we are," he said, adding that Kirchner was disciplined "on the basis of an allegation and an admission. We got the information, we acted on it, he didn't fight us on it, and he was disciplined."

Asked why Kirchner was not terminated, Wynn pointed out that, on advice of the city's legal counsel, the offense didn't rise to that level because it was a first-offense misdemeanor, and he had no prior discipline in his record.

"Even if we were to take that action [termination], [considering Kirchner's status] as a civil-service employee, we don't believe, legal counsel doesn't believe, it would have been upheld.

"Could we have taken that action? Yeah, but we would have been overturned. We'd be paying him back pay, and we'd be right back here after a long and laborious process."

Wynn explained that the disciplinary action he imposed on Kirchner -- suspension and loss of assignment -- "is the most severe discipline that I can impose as chief of police, given the nature of the allegations and Officer Kirchner's lack of prior disciplinary findings."

Wynn said he had been assured by Kirchner, a 10-year veteran of the force, that he would discontinue any involvement with steroids. "Steps have been taken, but those are internal personnel matters," Wynn maintained.

While he was "professionally disappointed" by Kirchner's recent actions, the chief cited the officer's "reputation as a hard-working, dedicated and proven member of the department and the Berkshire County Drug Task Force. He has consistently accepted difficult and dangerous assignments to protect our community, been commended and decorated for his performance on numerous occasions and is committed to his family and our community."

He also said that there is no indication that any other member of the Pittsfield police force is implicated in the probe.

"Should that prove to be the case at some point in the future," he added, "each of those potential allegations will be handled with the same intensity and thoroughness as this one."

As for the outcome of the ongoing federal investigations, as well as a state police internal probe, Wynn said he was not privy to the length of time that may be required.

Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn's complete statement is as follows:

City Of Pittsfield

Police Department

April 6, 2011

"For the past several weeks, the Pittsfield Police Department has been the subject of a variety of stories fueled by rumor, innuendo, and speculation. Despite the Department's efforts to remain above the sensationalism by responding only to those stories and those inquiries that we could address with fact, the speculation has continued. I believe that the men and women of the Pittsfield Police Department deserve to have an official response made for the record.

"First, I would like to point out that during this entire course of events, the City and Police Department have responded to every media request as quickly and completely as possible. While the timing and content of some of these releases has drawn criticism, we are constrained by law in what information we can release and when we can release it.

"Whenever some members of an organization are cast in an unflattering light, it is easy to paint the entire organization with the same, wide brush. Such gross generalizations are unfortunate and unfair. The Pittsfield Police Department consists of approximately 120 hard-working and dedicated professionals, who provide high-quality police services to the City of Pittsfield, every minute of every day and every day of every year. In addition to the high caliber police services that our personnel provide, we are also extremely involved in the community. Department members regularly give of their own time to improve our community. We are coaches, teachers, mentors, scoutmasters, and board members. We are active in our children's schools and in our churches. We provide the same energy and passion to our off-duty activities as we do to our professional performance.

"The public should be assured that sworn officers of the Pittsfield Police are held to an even higher standard than the people they serve and protect. We have one of the most robust Internal Affairs Policies of any local law enforcement agency. Decisions regarding matters of internal discipline are evaluated against several factors including an evaluation of both criminal and civil service law, an analysis of the Department's Rules & Regulations and Policies & Procedures, cases of prior discipline against the officer and findings for similar cases in the past.

"While I am professionally disappointed by the recent actions of Officer David Kirchner, I think that it is important to point out that prior to this incident; Officer Kirchner has enjoyed a reputation as a hard-working, dedicated, and proven member of both the Department and the Berkshire County Drug Task Force. He has consistently accepted difficult and dangerous assignments to protect our community, been commended and decorated for his performance on numerous occasions and is committed to his family and our community.

"Immediately upon being informed of the allegations against Officer Kirchner, the Department took steps to confront the allegations and contain the impact of the allegations on current operations. Officer Kirchner was relieved of his duties and informed that he was the subject of an Administrative Investigation. When confronted with the allegations, Officer Kirchner accepted responsibility for his actions, volunteered to accept appropriate discipline, and waived his due process rights to appeal the discipline imposed.

"Based on the information provided by the investigating agency, I conferred with members of the command staff and the Department's labor attorney and I imposed appropriate discipline on Officer Kirchner. This discipline (suspension coupled with loss of assignment), is the most severe discipline that I can impose as a Chief of Police, given the nature of the allegations and Officer Kirchner's lack of prior disciplinary findings.

"This punishment was based on the mere allegation of wrong-doing and a limited amount of physical evidence. It exceeds the punishment that most non-law enforcement personnel would receive under similar circumstances. Officer Kirchner has not been charged in connection with any criminal investigation, yet has already been administratively disciplined. This certainly does not indicate any preferential treatment for Department personnel.

"Finally, in regard to this matter, there is no indication from the ongoing investigation, that any other member of the Pittsfield Police Department is implicated in this probe. Should that prove to be the case at some point in the future, each of those potential allegations will be handled with the same intensity and thoroughness as this one.

"The men and women of the Pittsfield Police Department continue to provide quality, professional police services to the residents of our City and beyond. We will continue to do so during these trying times and after they are behind us. As the Department's Chief of Police, I stand behind our personnel and their performance. In those rare instances that our people's performance is less than ideal, we have a history of investigating those instances fully and disciplining appropriately. We will continue to do so in each and every case brought to our attention.

"Sincerely, Michael J. Wynn, Chief of Police"