Wood Disputes Officials Would Have Known of Negative Background Check Even if Destroyed as Agreed

Scott W. Wood Jr. is sworn in during 2020 as a Haverhill police officer before then-Mayor James J. Fiorentini and City Clerk Linda L. Koutoulas. (Courtesy photograph.)

Former Patrolman and School Committee member Scott W. Wood Jr. is disputing the city’s argument that details of his negative 2013 background check would have eventually become public even if the city had destroyed its copy as agreed.

In a federal court filing this week, Wood’s lawyer challenged Haverhill’s Dec. 29, 2023 request that a judge dismiss Wood’s lawsuit. Wood filed suit last October, seeking money for breach of contract, business interference that also cost him his Wenham police job and defamation by current and former police chiefs in Haverhill and Wenham.

Wood took issue with the city’s charge, which WHAV reported first, that former Haverhill interim Police Chief Anthony L. Haugh and current Police Chief Robert P. Pistone would not have known about the 2013 background report had it been destroyed as agreed.

Without the unauthorized information, attorney Sean R. Cronin continued, the officials could not have shared it with the Essex County District Attorney’s office to begin with, a move he also called unlawful. If officials had followed the May 31, 2013 “memorandum of understanding,” he said Wood would neither have lost his jobs nor suffered alleged personal, reputational and business damage.

Cronin also pushed back against the city’s claim that Haverhill police officials were legally obligated to share the pre-employment check with state prosecutors once they had obtained it. He argued U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Brady v. Maryland in 1963 and Giglio v. United States in 1972 do not automatically compel disclosure of background information without explicit request from the district attorney.

Had the 2013 report not been shared, Cronin wrote, Wood could have received wages from the Haverhill police department and would not have lost his position as a reserve officer with the Town of Wenham. He used these assertions to support Wood’s claim he lost business opportunities due to the city’s breaking the 2013 agreement.

The allegedly unlawful release of one of the documents, instant message transcripts collected by the FBI as part of a separate criminal investigation, also constitute a violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, as well as the fourth and 14th amendments, according to Cronin.

In addition to Wood’s filing, which came Feb. 6, the Town of Wenham submitted a motion to dismiss Feb. 7, over a month after Haverhill’s lawyers. With its approach similar to Haverhill’s, the town needed only to address some of the complaint’s arguments, as Haverhill was the primary target. Wenham’s lawyers cited laws that protect public employees from suits as long as they act without malice and in good faith.

Massachusetts District Court Judge Julia E. Kobick is set to decide whether Wood could plausibly, beyond speculation, deserve relief, determining if the complaint survives the attempted dismissal.

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