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DALTON — A divided Select Board voted Thursday to fire a Dalton police officer for failing to respond immediately to a report of a despondent woman later found dead in her apartment.

The board voted 3-1 to dismiss Officer John M. Marley, closing a protracted discussion that involved hours of testimony and debate over four sessions in April and May.

In a proceeding carried live on Dalton Community Television, the board began in open session, with member Joseph Diver making eight motions to find that Marley violated a variety of police procedures in not responding to a Nov. 23 call placed to a dispatcher by a concerned neighbor of Sherilyn Hayes.

Marley directed a junior officer that night not to respond to the North Street incident. Forty-four minutes after the call came in, Hayes, 24, was found hanging in her apartment bathroom, an apparent suicide.

Five of the eight motions faulting Marley's performance that night passed, with member John Boyle voting against all of them and member Edward Holub voting no on three.

Diver and Robert W. Bishop Jr., the board chairman, voted to find Marley in violation of all eight counts, including conduct unbecoming an officer, incompetence, failing to comply with police procedure and ethics violations.

"This young lady was never in the equation," Bishop said of Marley's conduct, then appeared to address the officer himself, who monitored the proceedings on a Zoom video conference. "There is no reason you shouldn't have called the lady."

Diver, Holub and Bishop voted to terminate Marley's employment, with Boyle dissenting. The vote came on a motion by Diver, which asserted that the town had gathered sufficient evidence that the officer violated five police policies or standards "that a senior officer should never violate," Diver said.

Board member Marc Strout again recused himself from the case. He works in law enforcement and his wife is an officer in the Dalton department.

Reached at her home, Trish Hayes, the mother of Sherilyn Hayes, expressed appreciation for the board's vote.

"I'm just so relieved that some justice was found for my daughter, Sherilyn," Hayes said.

Attack on report

In a final attempt to influence the outcome, Marley's attorney faulted Alfred P. Donovan, the consultant the town hired to investigate the incident, saying Donovan didn't follow the facts.

Attorney Terence E. Coles said Donovan was wrong, for example, to characterize the matter at Hayes' home, which she shared with Kyle Nutting, a police officer in the town of Peru, as a "domestic" incident. Coles challenged the view that it was clear to Marley that Hayes had threatened to take her life. "There was no exigent threat," Coles said.

Timothy D. Zessin, the town's attorney, said Marley had been told Hayes expressed a wish to die. He took aim at attempts by Coles to establish that while Hayes may have said she wanted to die, she had not said she wanted to kill herself.

"There simply was no distinction between those two statements," Zessin said.

Zessin said Marley should have immediately sent the junior officer to the scene, as well as making the series of phone calls documented throughout the hearings.

"There is simply no plausible explanation for why Officer Marley could not have done two things at once," Zessin said. "It seems clear that an immediate response was necessary."

Marley did not speak during Thursday's open session, which began at 6 p.m. The board went into executive session at his request around 7 p.m. to discuss allegations, outlined by Bishop, that on Feb. 23 Marley confronted three other Dalton officers in an attempt to influence or impede Donovan's investigation.

Coles questioned why the board was prepared to vote Thursday, saying he thought members were waiting to receive a report from the state police. "I'm not sure you were looking for that evidence," Coles said.

Diver told Coles the town was no longer seeking that report, which officials said focused on whether or not a crime was conducted, not on the integrity of a town police officer's response.

Zessin, the town's attorney, called the question of the state police report a "red herring," since the report was not an internal affairs inquiry, as Donovan's was.

After voting to dismiss Marley, the board directed Zessin to write draft language for his firing. The vote on that was unanimous.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-588-8341.


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