It’s not about Aaron Pickering. It’s about the town integrity.
Make no mistake, everyone deserves a fair hearing and rights that are given him or her under the law of the land or under the law of common decency. Aaron Pickering has had his hearing(s). He has had a hearing with the Internal Affairs office in the Police Department, he has had one with the Chief of Police and one with the Town Manager. Now he wants one in public. The decision was made that he was outside a private home trying not to be seen following an evening of consuming eight alcoholic beverages in several different bars. When confronted by the police, who were called by the homeowner, he either told them or allowed them to believe that he was on an assignment. He was not.
When Pickering was interviewed by Hampton Police Chief William Wrenn, he allgedly lied about how many drinks that he had consumed and told conflicting stories about why he was outside the private home. On January 13, and as a result of a thorough investigation, Chief Wrenn discharged Pickering. Both the former officer’s friends, and the patrolman’s association are chagrined at his firing. There has been much public support for Pickering because he has had a clean record during his tenure as a police officer. He also is a highly thought of volunteer coach at the high school. The Police Chief is well aware of Pickering’s record and says he has taken it into account. His lawyer has allegedly said that he (Pickering) lied about his drinking because he was embarrassed. Come on, Counselor, what would you say about that excuse if you were on the other side of the table?
Now, let’s look at this scenario. You (yes, you) are the defendant in a case before a court of law. A police officer testifies that you are innocent because of a set of circumstances that he or she witnessed and swears it to be true. Now under cross examination, the prosecutor gets the officer to waver on the sworn testimony. That particular situation frequently happens as we are aware, but now, YOU are the defendant and the witness testifying for YOU, wavers in the testimony and is known to have a record of being accused (and/or admitting) of lying in an internal investigation conducted by his department. What do you think the prosecutor is going to do with YOUR witness. Of course, completely discredit the testimony and the witness.
This column is not about Aaron Pickering who has had no previous charges, it is about the integrity of a town and its department managers. A police chief cannot have the dishonesty of an officer cause the integrity of the entire department to be compromised. The Town Manager must agree when the evidence is presented, to protect the integrity of the town and prevent liability beyond the everyday situations that are faced in any municipality. All would be subject to severe criticism if that were not done.
There have been alleged instances of other officers not being truthful in their responses to investigations; and supporters of Pickering say that others have gone unpunished. That may be true, but each case has to stand on its own and not be judged by what has happened under past administrations or department heads.
The Town of Hampton will soon be voting to seat two Selectmen. Those who have announced the intent to run all say that the town department heads should not be micro-managed and that they should be allowed to run their departments as they see fit. If they do not, they should be dealt with by their boss, the Town Manager. The candidates, to a person, say that the Town Manager should be allowed to manage. This seems to be the way this matter has been handled, and yes, former Officer Pickering can and did request a public hearing, but lets hope that the Board of Selectmen does not try to take over the decision made by a competent police chief and a new Town Manager who is emerging as a very competent manager and one who has a great deal of vision.
Atlantic News 30 January 1997