LOWELL -- Was it a pocket dictionary or a cell phone?
Based on testimony from seven Lowell Police Department sergeants, a three-member Board of Inquiry determined that Sgt. Thomas Fleming had with him an electronic device during an April 29 promotional examination and subsequently lied about having it.
The board, comprised of Captains Jonathan Webb and Timothy Crowley and Lieutenant Paul Laferriere, completed its report on July 3.
After initially indicating he would fight the department's findings, outlined in a 12-page document, a copy of which was obtained by The Sun, Fleming, 56, retired Tuesday.
"For what?" Fleming, said the 32-year veteran of the department.
Twenty-four sergeants took the day-long examination to become lieutenants. Four have yet to be promoted.
Of the 24 sergeants, seven -- Angel Otero, John Sheehan, Thomas Lombard, Stephen Morrill, Scott Fuller, Donald Crawford and Shaun Santos -- told the board they saw Fleming with an electronic device in the testing room. Prior to the test, all were told electronic devices were prohibited.
Otero told the inquiry board: "During the testing on several occasions I observed Sgt. Fleming using what I believe to be a cell phone. He was, it was on, he wasn't looking at photos, he wasn't looking at text messages, we all know what that looks like, he was reading paragraph after paragraph and writing his assignment."
Otero was interviewed June 25, nearly two months after the test was administered. Fleming was interviewed July 2.
Fleming told the board he did not have an electronic device with him. Subsequently, he produced records showing his cell phone was not used during the testing hours.
When asked by the board if he had anything with him that could have been mistaken by someone as an electronic device, he said "yes, possibly."
Fleming stated he had "a pocket size or small size dictionary to look up words, which I did use."
Fleming produced the dictionary, which the board retained.
During subsequent board interviews with the seven sergeants, the report said six "were adamant that the dictionary was not the item they observed Sgt. Fleming using ... the seventh who although was uncertain because he only got a glance at the object believes it was more likely a cell phone device type object he observed than the dictionary."
The board found Fleming was not truthful. "An officer or employee shall truthfully state the facts in all reports as well as when he appears before any judicial, departmental, or other official investigation, hearing, trial or proceeding. He shall cooperate fully in all phases of such investigation, hearings, trials and proceedings. A member or employee of the department will speak the truth at all times and under all circumstances."
None of the other sergeants who took the test saw anything suspicious, the report states. Nor did five proctors from the firm that administered the test, Badgequest, or city Human Resources Manager Mary Callery and her assistant Nancy Do.
Fleming has overseen the Lowell Police Academy since the late 1990s and also served as president of the Superior Officers Association. He and others have questioned the motivation of the sergeants, primarily Otero, who waited for nearly two months before voicing his concerns to Capt. Raymond "Kelly" Richardson.
The Sun has also learned that the test results were made known to the department on May 20. Gregory Hudon had the highest score, followed by Fleming. Sgts. Donald Crawford, Steven Coyle, John Cullen, and Matthew Penrose were tied with the third highest score.
Otero and the other sergeants who corroborated his claim -- Fuller, Lombard, Morrill, Santos and Sheehan -- scored lower.
Otero did not respond to a message left on his cell phone for comment.
Police Superintendent William Taylor, who formed the board of inquiry, is on vacation and did not respond to a text message. The acting superintendent, Deputy Arthur Ryan Jr., declined to comment. City Manager Kevin Murphy was unavailable for comment.
Fleming declined to discuss his retirement, but did issue a statement to The Sun. Among the points he raised:
* During the promotional exam, Fleming sat in the center of the front row, 10 feet from the proctor. All of the individuals in the room were allowed to walk freely during the test. Twenty-six of the 32 witnesses interviewed stated they did not see me with a phone or "any electronic device."
* Of the witnesses who stated otherwise, their statements varied. "The statements were made months after the exam results were released not on the spot during the exam or immediately thereafter. Some said they saw me with something; some said a cell phone; some said an Ipod; some said an electronic device. All of these individuals were close to me, and are long-time, veteran officers that handle witness statements and evidence on a daily basis. I choose not to attack these statements at this point, but simply want to highlight their lack of weight and substance."
* Fleming, at his own expense, took a lie-detector test administered by Jack Consigli, a former Massachusetts State Police polygraph expert. Consigli asked Fleming specifically whether he used his phone, or any electronic devices during the promotional exam. Fleming responded no, and the results showed he was not deceptive.
"It is difficult for me to not legally challenge the accusations at this time in a more formal setting; I choose not to do so for many reasons. As a union president, and having spent the last 20 years training young officers to support each other, I do not believe that a formal dispute would advance the solidarity of officers who so desperately need to stick together in an increasingly dangerous occupation. Looking at the enormous amount of evidence that refutes the allegations, I am comfortable that anyone who looks at it objectively will conclude that the allegations are not true. These allegations are a desperate attempt to ruin my reputation and career by some throughout the department and by some at the highest level of the police department."
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