Board has regrets, but upholds Pickering firing
HAMPTON — The Board of Selectmen in a three to two vote, upheld the decision of Police Chief William Wrenn and Town Manager James Barrington in the discharge of former Patrolman Aaron Pickering. Following a February 3 hearing that Aaron Pickering had requested, the Board took several days to consider and discuss the testimony presented by the attorneys and the principle players in the much publicized discharge of the former DARE officer.
They wrote a letter to Pickering stating that they had considered the four charges presented by the Chief to the Town Manager (which Barrington upheld) in a memo recommending disciplinary action. They wrote:
“The Board finds as follows: That with deep regret for past services rendered, and for the personal grief our actions will cause you, we uphold the decision of Town Manager Barrington in his approval of the recommendations of the Chief of the Hampton Police Department – specifically Charges #3 and #4 only, UNTRUTHFULLNESS, INSUBORDINATION – and terminate your services as a law enforcement officer for the Town of Hampton, New Hampshire.”
The letter was signed by Mary-Louise Woolsey, Chairman for the Board of Selectmen.
The fourth charge against the officer was “conducting an unauthorized investigation.” While the charge was not considered in the firing it was an issue that was a major part of Pickering’s undoing. On the evening when Pickering was found prowling on private property, he told an investigating officer that he was on a continuing investigation of possible child abuse.
In his sworn testimony at four hearings, Pickering told varying stories of why he was at the house on Locke Road in Hampton. He vacillated betwen saying that he was trying to locate an address so that he might give or loan a juvenile a piece of equipment to help him play guitar, and saying that he was there investigating. Pickering never made it clear what he was doing there. Even without the fourth charge, he admitted lying to Chief Wrenn regarding the number of alcoholic beverages he had consumed that night.
There has been varying reaction to the Selectman’s ruling. Many of Pickering’s supporters (and he had many) claimed that because of his unblemished record of service and because he helped innumerable young people as a DARE officer and volunteer coach, he should be punished but that his mistakes did not warrant firing
The other side of the opinion was that the Chief, the Town Manager and the Selectmen did the only thing they could do. They upheld the integrity of the Police Department and of the Town. That they had protected the town against future legal action or embarrassment over an officer who had not only made a mistake, but had compromised himself and his fellow officers by lying. In just about everyone’s opinion, the incident was one that should never have happened.
Atlantic News 13 February 1997