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Northern Berkshires| Northern Berkshires
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Northern Berkshires| Northern Berkshires

WILLIAMSTOWN  A former Williamstown police chief and a former sergeant initiated, participated in and tolerated sexually and racially charged offensive comments and conduct within the department.

That was the the conclusion of an independent investigation into the conduct of former Sgt. Scott McGowan and Kyle Johnson, former Police Chief.

The Select Board received the report from Judy A. Levenson, an investigator and attorney, as the result of one investigation into allegations about the department. Both reports were submitted in August 2021 to the town and supported allegations of a hostile work environment.

Levenson was tasked in February 2021 with investigating McGowan’s claims in a complaint filed to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, November 2019, and another federal court complaint, August 2020.

McGowan alleged that Johnson was racial and sexual harasser and created hostile work environments.

The Select Board in March hired Levenson separately from Paul J. LItalien, a private investigator. LItalien was hired by the Select Board to investigate the allegations against McGowan in a March letter to the town. The letter was signed by all officers in the department and included several off-duty incidents with law enforcers as well as criticisms of McGowan’s conduct on duty.

Scott E. McGowan (copy) (copy)

Former Williamstown Police Sergent. Scott McGowan is believed to have contributed to the racially- and sexually charged work environment within the department.

McGowan was charged with the same allegations as the former chief. The letter also stated that McGowan’s past personal conduct and legal entanglements made it unfit to serve the department. One officer said that McGowan could return to duty if he wanted (he was on paid admin leave at the time), and would look for other employment.

According to the officers letter, Scott McGowan should not be a police officer or sergeant. Scott McGowan was not given confidence by the officers after a unanimous vote.

Johnson resigned December 2020. McGowan accepted a November 2021 retirement.

Charles Blanchard, Interim Town Manager, stated that the most important results of these investigations were the recommendations made by Levenson & LItalien. These are being addressed by Interim chief Ziemba with full support from the Select Board and the members of WPD. “I believe we are at a new page and I hope that the community will join me in supporting us as we move on.”

Both McGowan and police officers were able to confirm the allegations.

The LItalien report raises other issues, such as the absence of an employee evaluation system or a published account detailing duties and responsibilities for ranks within a department.

McGowan’s off-duty behavior in the late 1990s/early 2000s includes driving on Williams College’s lawn with a minor female in possession of an alcohol beverage, an arrest in domestic assault and, most recently, driving while intoxicated at Pownal, Vt. in 2009.

All of the officers in Williamstown agree that McGowan created a hostile work environment and there is no other source, according to the LItalien report. Both current and former officers of the police department described numerous instances when Sergeant McGowan displayed intemperate conduct with his co-workers.

The report also mentions that McGowan spent an unreasonable time at home during his day shift.

McGowan refers to a Black Officer, who was his roommate during three years in 2000, using a racial slur, as witnessed at least by two officers.

Witnesses have confirmed that McGowan, Johnson, and McGowan rubbed the genitals of male department members during the summer 2007. Johnson is reported to have done it again against a female department employee in the summer of 2010.

Johnson, McGowan, as well as other department members, referred to a female dispatcher with nicknames like Bae or “Baby Girl”.

The Levenson report shows Johnson would glance back at the officer and look confused if he was shown a photo or video showing a person of colour in the presence of a Black police officer.

According to reports, Johnson knew about Adolf Hitler’s photo that was kept in an officer’s locker for over 20 years before he claimed he had heard about it in 2019. They also note that McGowan and Johnson did not take any action to remove this photo.

The investigation found no evidence that Johnson and the town manager were involved in retaliation for McGowan’s promotion to lieutenant.

These reports included recommendations such as updating and disseminating anti-discrimination policy and requiring all staff to undergo sexual harassment preventative and anti-bias training. They also recommended that written job descriptions be developed and distributed for each position within the police department.

According to Interim Chief Michael Ziemba (reported in the L’Italien Report), the department is in the process for updating all of its personnel policies.

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