Mayoral Candidate Wood Sues Haverhill, Claims Background Check Cost Him Two Police Jobs

Haverhill School Committee member Scott W. Wood Jr. during a press conference during the Haverhill teachers’ strike last fall. (WHAV News photograph.)

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Haverhill School Committee member Scott W. Wood Jr. filed suit Thursday against the city where he is a candidate for mayor, saying the resurfacing of a police “background investigation” of him more than a decade ago unfairly ended his employment as a police officer in both Haverhill and Wenham.

Wood filed the case against the city, Haverhill Police Department and current and former Chiefs of Police Robert P. Pistone and Anthony Haugh. He charges all broke an agreement to “dispose of all copies of a background report” from 2013. WHAV filed a public records request to obtain a copy of the investigation conducted by then-Haverhill Deputy Police Chief Donald Thompson.

The background check refers to such “Red Flags” as racist and sexist language in instant messages sometime between 2007 and 2009, unwelcome sexual advances, “documented allegations of misconduct” while working as a college police officer and omitting an employer in a job application to another police department. The suit, filed by attorney Suzanne L. Herold, counters, “Apart from the instant message conversation, which Officer Wood does not recall, none of the allegations were supported by evidence.”

According to the suit, “On June 18, 2021, Officer Wood received a call from Deputy Chief (Stephen J.) Doherty. He stated that Officer Wood needed to return his badge and gun and all Police Department related equipment. Officer Wood asked if he was being suspended or terminated and why, but Deputy Chief Doherty could provide no explanation.”

The suit contends Mayor James J. Fiorentini told Wood in a telephone call that he lost his badge and gun because “Haugh had come to his office with a copy of the background report and threatened to go to the press.”

In a statement provided to WHAV Sunday, Wood goes further, saying, “I am suing the city to clear my name. After working under Chief (Alan R.) DeNaro for eight months, I refused an illegal demand by the police brass who succeeded him to resign from the School Committee if I wanted to work as a Haverhill police officer. Then, these same individuals used a fallacious, inflammatory and banned document to deprive me of employment.”

Wood asks the court to give him his job back plus back pay of a little more than $1,000 a week, unspecified money for “emotional distress” and other compensation.

He revealed he first was a candidate for a Haverhill police officer in April 2012. Following the background check, however, he agreed in May 2013 to withdraw his application in exchange for a pact where “the city agreed to dispose of all copies of the background report from Donald Thompson within one year.”

Reached by telephone Sunday, former Police Chief DeNaro backs Wood’s side of the story. He said “The mayor was very, very, very upset” about the original background check…In retrospect, he was correct.” Nevertheless, the city gave Wood “three years to mature up.”

Around Wood’s 2020 hiring, DeNaro said, he asked Detective Richard Welch to conduct a “very comprehensive investigation,” adding, “It was given to Welch because he was our best and most thorough background investigator…he passed him with flying colors.”

DeNaro said there were also at least two mistakes from the original background check—failure to obtain Wood’s side of the story on each allegation and not conducting a forensic check of Wood’s computer to confirm he was actually the one sending the off-color messages.

Wood also charges the city’s “leaking” of the 2013 report cost him his Wenham job, described in legal terms as “intentional interference with advantageous business relations.” The suit also alleges Wood was defamed by “false and harmful statements” made by Haugh and Pistone, that he was wrongly fired and that he was deprived of his civil service rights.

In Sunday’s statement, he added, “This document was never authenticated or formerly attributed to me and is full of lies. If the mayor and Chief DeNaro believed this document to be true, they would have never appointed me in 2020.  I am running for mayor on the issues, but by holding my accusers accountable I mean to assure the public that when I am mayor, no one will be so bullied as I have been by high-ranking city officials.”

Asked for the city’s response, Haverhill City Solicitor William D. Cox Jr. told WHAV, “We have seen the complaint, but have not yet been served with it. We’re consulting with the city’s insurer and will have a more complete response in due time.”

WHAV first questioned Wood’s status when he was not seen on the job during the summer and fall of 2021. During the same month, December 2021, that Wood says he was formally fired by Pistone, the city gave incomplete responses to a WHAV public records request. The suit alleges Pistone told Wood someone leaked Wood’s background check to the Essex County District Attorney’s office. Prosecutors compile such information, sometimes called “Brady Lists,” since the Constitution requires them to turn over evidence that may be favorable to those charged by police.

Fiorentini swore Wood in—first as a reserve Haverhill police officer in October of 2020 and again, April 23, 2021, as a full-time officer. DeNaro recommended Wood’s appointment in 2020 after the state legislature allowed him to overcome the city’s maximum age limit of 34. Wood was 37.

According to the suit, when Wood moved from reserve to full time, he received a waiver from the Municipal Police Training Committee of the police academy training requirement. But Haugh, who succeeded DeNaro as interim chief, reportedly took Wood off the schedule and sent him back to reserve status until Wood completed the academy. The suit reports Wood objected, saying the training condition is not part of his agreement with the city.

Wood continued to work as a police officer in Wenham until, the suit alleges, Wenham Police Chief Kevin DiNapoli told Wood Dec. 2, 2022 “he was being put on administrative leave and that his badge and gun where being taken” because of the background report now on file with the district attorney and in the, so called, “Brady List” law enforcement database.

 

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