Chester officer resigns after six-month administrative leave

By Cynthia Prairie

Chester Police officer Paul Larochelle has sent a letter of resignation to the Town of Chester, in effect ending an administrative leave that began Nov. 18, 2013 following an undisclosed complaint.

Local police would not reveal the details of the complaint or the reasons behind the administrative leave.

In the meantime, the Chester Select Board has called a special public meeting for 6 p.m. tonight, Friday, May 23 with only one agenda item: “LaRochelle Resignation.” That meeting will be held at Town Hall, 556 Elm St. Town manager David Pisha said yesterday that the public meeting was called “on advice of counsel.”

Late yesterday afternoon, a person at the Larochelle home would only say, “We have no comment” before hanging up the phone.

During an administrative leave, the officer continues to collect pay and accrue vacation time.

As of April 12, 2014, Larochelle had been paid $17,203, according to Julie Hance, assistant to the town manager. The Chester Telegraph is attempting to determine how much in total Larochelle has been paid while on leave, when his time with the police department formally ends and what the terms of his departure will be.

This was the second time that Larochelle has been placed on administrative leave by the department, according to Chester Police Chief Rick Cloud. According to an email from Hance, Larochelle was placed on administrative leave the first time on July 13, 2010 and he returned to work on July 24, 2010. At that time, he was paid $1,440 while on leave.

The reason for that leave also was not disclosed.

Larochelle had been an officer with the Springfield Police Department from May 2, 1980 to Dec. 2, 1988, when he resigned with the rank of detective corporal, according to Jeff Mobus, comptroller of the Town of Springfield. Following that he worked as an editor for the Message for the Week when it was based in Chester. That weekly publication is now based in New Hampshire.

Larochelle began working for the Chester Police Department part time in January of 2008 and was promoted to full time 10 months later, according to Hance.

On Nov. 18, 2013, Larochelle was placed on administrative leave for a second time while a criminal investigation was conducted by the Vermont State Police. According to VSP Major Glenn Hall, the state police did conduct a probe, then turned its findings over to the State Attorney General’s office.

Matthew Levine, assistant attorney general with the criminal division of the Attorney General’s office, said, “We did review, but no criminal charges were filed as a result of the investigation.” He added that the file was closed in February 2014 and the case was returned to the Chester Police Department for an internal review.

In an interview in April, Cloud said that that during an internal review, he would have to decide if Larochelle’s conduct would be considered unbecoming, among other choices, then send a recommendation to  town manager Pisha, who is the de facto police commissioner. If Cloud had recommended disciplinary action or firing, Larochelle could have either accepted the decision or fought it. If he had challenged the decision, the case would have gone before a Judicial Review Board, in this case made up of the Chester Select  Board. Larochelle then could have decided either to open or close that meeting to the public.

As of publication, it could not be determined if Cloud had completed his internal review.

In April, The Chester Telegraph began looking into Larochelle’s leave after receiving a tip from an anonymous source.

The Chester Telegraph then asked for the records regarding the investigation from both the state and the Town of Chester and was told that it would have to make a formal request. Earlier this month, the Telegraph filed requests under Vermont’s Public Records Law with the Town of Chester and the Vermont Attorney General’s office.

As of Wednesday, the town has denied the Telegraph’s request, claiming that the documents requested were either exempt from public disclosure or are under “active consideration.” The Attorney General’s office has responded that it is processing the request and will have an answer within the 10 days allotted by law.

Shawn Cunningham contributed to this article.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor for 30 years, having worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Mary Jane Miles says:

    It’s time we have a citizen oversight committee for the police department. How do we do this? There is poor transparency about what goes on in this town and a lot of hidden information.