Civil Service Commission denies Methuen police officer's bypass appeal

·4 min read

Jun. 9—METHUEN — The Civil Service Commission recently dismissed an appeal filed earlier this year by Police Officer Christopher Gagne contesting the city's decision to bypass him for appointment as a police officer in January 2015.

According to the city, Gagne became a permanent, full-time police officer on March 13 of this year. Two days later, he filed a bypass appeal requesting that the Commission "order relief in the form of a retroactive civil service seniority date" going back to 2015.

In his June 3 decision, Commission Chairman Christopher Bowman said Gagne passed the required civil service examination on Jan. 16, 2013.

By February 2014, Gagne was listed on Certification No. 01595 which would be used to select new officers. However, he was bypassed in January 2015. One month later, Gagne passed the civil service examination once again. However, Bowman's decision does not explain why Gagne took the exam again.

Bowman said that in 2017, Gagne applied at the police departments in Derry, N.H. and Merrimack, N.H.; however, he was not selected by either one. In September of that same year, he applied with the Haverhill Police Department and withdrew from the hiring process.

Following his graduation from the Police Academy in 2018, Gagne met with then-Methuen Mayor James Jajuga, who offered him a position as a non-civil service intermittent police officer.

In an unrelated matter, the State Ethics Commission rendered the opinion that: "Intermittent Officers in Methuen are not 'on duty' at all times. When not on active duty, they have neither the authority nor the obligation to act as police officers."

This was not Gagne's objective.

During the standard background investigation, Gagne indicated that he had applied with the Methuen Police in 2015. However, the "hired" and "rejected" boxes on the application were both left blank. Gagne later said it was his understanding that although he was not hired, he was also unaware that he had been bypassed.

"Other than this one reference, the 2018 background investigation makes no reference to the Appellant's 2015 application for employment and subsequent rejection," said Bowman.

Although he was a non-civil service intermittent police officer for two years, Gagne maintained that he upheld the responsibilities of a full-time officer.

"I was advised by then-Chief [Joseph] Solomon that I was one of the top candidates on the list and was going to be a full-time officer," said Gagne. "However, Mayor [Neil] Perry stopped that process after the full background, interview and hiring process."

On Jan. 12, 2021, Gagne sent an email to the commission indicating that he met with Perry in September 2020 to discuss his situation.

"He advised me that according to records from Methuen Police, I was sent a letter informing me that I was being bypassed. This letter was supposed to explain the bypass and reason thereof," said Gagne.

Although Perry provided a copy of the letter, Gagne said the reason for the bypass was not included. The explanation was also not included in Bowman's decision.

"It was not until I was hired as a full-time intermittent officer in 2018 that I noticed there were full-time officers working there that had scored lower than me on the Entry Level Police Officer Exam," said Gagne.

On April 12, 2022 the city filed a motion to dismiss the appeal. It was argued that Gagne was in fact made aware of the bypass in 2015. However, he did not adhere to the Commission's 60-day timeframe to file an appeal.

By then, seven years had passed and Bowman agreed that Gagne's appeal was made far too late.

"The earliest the Appellant contacted the Commission was Jan. 12, 2021, well beyond the 60-day filing deadline," said Bowman. "The Appellant attempts to thread a needle and argue that, while he was told, in 2020, that he was bypassed in 2015, he was not provided with a copy of the reasons. The Appellant had ample opportunity to inform city officials that he did not receive the letter and attached reasons. He chose not to do so."

Therefore, Bowman determined that a retroactive civil service seniority date would not be granted.

However, he said the Commission's investigation is not over.

"The Civil Service Commission is conducting an ongoing investigation reviewing, among other matters, whether the employment of non-civil service intermittent police officers, including those who served on a full-time basis, was a violation of the civil service and or other laws," he said.