By Jill Harmacinski
LAWRENCE - In a swiftly issued decision, hearing officer Peter McQuillan upheld Mayor William Lantigua’s termination of veteran police officer Carlos Gonzalez.
The city on Monday served Gonzalez with a termination letter and is in the process of shutting off his pay, officials said.
Gonzalez, 48, is currently sitting in a Florida jail awaiting trial on child rape charges. He was also indicted on child rape charges in New Hampshire last month. Gonzalez, who earns $60,000, has been on paid administrative leave since Dec. 17, 2012. With McQuillan’s decision, the city can now shut down Gonzalez’s pay.
The officer is charged with sexually assaulting a girl under age 13 in Salem, N.H. in 1992 and 1993 and raping a girl under age 12 in Haines City, Florida in July 2012.
While Gonzalez is being stripped of his salary, two other city police officers indicted on felony charges, Deputy Chief Melix Bonilla and P.J. Lopez, remain on the city payroll. Lantigua, as mayor, is the appointing authority and ultimately decides if a police officer will be fired.
On Monday, a termination letter was faxed to Gonzalez who is being held on a $165,000 bond in the South Jail in Polk County, Fla., officials said.
A termination hearing for Gonzalez was held on June 21 at Lawrence City Hall. McQuillan, city attorney Charles Boddy and police Capt. Scott McNamara attended the hearing. Neither Gonzalez nor his defense attorney were present.
McQuillan issued his decision, agreeing with Lantigua’s firing the 25-year police officer, five days later on June 26.
In his decision, McQuillan wrote “just cause” exists for Gonzalez’s termination for conduct unbecoming of an officer and noted he’s facing “serious criminal charges of moral turpitude in Florida and New Hampshire involving two separate alleged victims who are minors.”
He added it’s reasonable to conclude Gonzalez committed a serious breach of public trust and quoted state case law (city of Boston v. Boston Patrolmen’s Association) which reads, “One of the most important police functions is to create and maintain a feeling of security in communities. To that end, it is extremely important for the police to gain and preserve public trust, maintain public confidence and avoid abuse of power by law enforcement officials.”
“It is therefore my opinion that the city of Lawrence has provided just cause for it’s allegations that Gonzalez’ conduct constitutes conduct unbecoming a police officer and that is unfit to perform the duties of that office,” McQuillan wrote.
Police Chief John Romero and Boddy both declined comment on the decision.
Gonzalez can appeal McQuillan’s decision to the state’s Civil Service Commission.
The city hired former Methuen City Solicitor McQuillan to oversee the termination hearing, although it was unclear yesterday how much he was paid for his services. McQuillan stopped working for the city of Methuen on May 31 but continued to collect $2,000 weekly in paid vacation until June 30.
In December, one of Gonzalez’s alleged victims went to Lawrence police and reported she was sexually assaulted.
On February 27, Gonzalez was arrested and charged on a Haines City, Fla. fugitive from justice warrant. He is charged in Haines City, located between Tampa and Orlando, with sexual battery by a custodian on a person between the ages of 12 and 18, and selling, giving or serving alcohol to a person under age 21.
Last month, after Salem, N.H. police re-opened a previous complaint about Gonzalez, Rockingham County grand jurors handed down an indictment against Gonzalez for aggravated felonious sexual assault. The indictments alleged between Nov. 1, 1992 and April 30, 1993, Gonzalez sexually assaulted a girl who was then 11 years old.
While Gonzalez is being terminated, Bonilla and Lopez, who earn $140,000 and $60,000 respectively, are still on the city payroll although they are not working.
In September 2012, Bonilla was indicted by the Essex County Grand Jury as part of an ongoing investigation into Lantigua and his administration. Bonilla, Lantigua’s campaign manager, is accused of swapping 13-city owned vehicles for four Chevrolets with a Lantigua friend. The state inspector general said the city lost $30,000 in the deal.
Lopez, another Lantigua supporter, was also indicted in September 2012 by a federal grand jury for allegedly making arrangements with a local tow company to have cars he ticketed towed in exchange for a stream of benefits, including a $4,000 snow plow.
Previously, Lantigua also allowed police officer Daron Fraser to spend 29 months on paid administrative leave, racking up $150,000 without working and continuing to accrue vacation and sick time and retirement benefits.