WILLIAMSTOWN — Sgt. Scott E. McGowan has been on a paid leave since March. One way or another, his job status with the Williamstown Police Department will soon change.
Interim Town Manager Charles T. Blanchard plans to decide within weeks whether to fire McGowan or return him to active duty.
Before he makes that decision, Blanchard will consider advice from a Worcester lawyer he tapped to review two earlier investigative reports into McGowan’s conduct and the wider operations of the police department. That advice is coming any day now.
Questions about bias and harassment within the department broke into the open a year ago, when McGowan filed a federal civil lawsuit against the town and two top officials, including Police Chief Kyle Johnson. The lawsuit was withdrawn by McGowan last December after Johnson resigned.
The lawsuit also led to the resignation of Town Manager Jason Hoch, who had been named both in the lawsuit and in an earlier complaint by McGowan to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. Blanchard was hired to fill in until the town picks a full-time successor to Hoch.
“I would like to take care of this while I am still here,” Blanchard said in an interview in his town hall corner office. His contract runs through Oct. 8 but could be extended.
McGowan, a full-time officer since 2002, was sidelined from his $76,000-a-year job by Hoch after all other rank-and-file members of the police department alleged conduct by the sergeant that they said made him unfit to serve.
EAGLE INVESTIGATIONS: Williamstown police officers say Sgt. Scott E. McGowan accused others of conduct he exhibited himself, including open and frequent use of an anti-Black epithet, as well as displays of sexual and racial harassment.
The complaint from the officers alleged that McGowan bullied and verbally harassed co-workers within the department, creating a hostile environment that left them reluctant to work with him. The statement said officers did not have confidence in McGowan’s ability to perform his assigned work.
“Since McGowan was made a Sergeant,” it says, “his abuse of power, narcissistic attitude toward fellow officers, and his bullying are more than any employee should have to endure,” the complaint said. “McGowan stated in his (lawsuit) that he wants to make this a better Police Department. … In our unanimous opinion, Scott McGowan shouldn’t even be a police officer, let alone a sergeant.”
At the time it was sent to Williamstown officials, McGowan’s attorney, David A. Russcol, called it “character assassination.”
“Sgt. McGowan looks forward to a thorough investigation to clear his name,” he said in March.
During Blanchard’s time filling in, he has received reports from two outside investigators, Judy A. Levenson and Paul L’Italien. Those reports cost the town about $58,000, Blanchard said. L’Italien’s report was submitted Aug. 6. Levenson’s findings were provided to the town Aug. 10. Levenson was originally hired in February to look at issues within the police department raised in McGowan’s lawsuit; the scope of her inquiry expanded after the police officers filed their complaint about McGowan.
Though submitted, the reports are not yet public documents because they are part of an ongoing personnel matter, Blanchard said.
Recently, Blanchard hired Worcester attorney Demitrios M. Moschos to serve as a special investigator to evaluate the findings of the two reports and make a recommendation on whether sufficient evidence has been compiled to fire McGowan.
“Really to see if any actionable items should be taken,” Blanchard said. “I feel [the reports] need to have an independent evaluation.”
Blanchard said he chose Moschos because of the attorney’s familiarity with issues raised in the case. “He’s pretty well known in labor law issues,” Blanchard said. Moschos’ work will cost Williamstown between $10,000 and $20,000.
After a year of public uncertainty about the police department, following allegations in McGowan’s August 2020 lawsuit, Blanchard said the community needs to see steps taken to provide resolution. “I would certainly hope so,” he said.