Bellows Falls police officer cleared by attorney general

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BELLOWS FALLS — Bellows Falls Police Sgt. Mario Checchi was cleared of alleged misconduct Monday, according to a brief announcement by the Vermont attorney general's office.

The attorney general's office said it reviewed the investigation conducted by the Vermont State Police last year and found "no credible evidence" that Checchi violated any laws.

The press release said the allegation was that Checchi had tipped off someone who was the target of a search warrant.

"It's good news. I'm glad we have the results and can stop speculating," said Municipal Manager Wendy Harrison.

"I'm glad it is resolved," said Bellows Falls Village President Deborah Wright.

Checchi is best known in Bellows Falls for his work with his police dog Caesar, and he's been involved in several high profile drug cases involving Caesar in the past year. He previously worked for the Walpole, N.H. Police Department.

Windham County State's Attorney Tracy Kelly Shriver filed the complaint against the police department on July 31, 2019, asking for an investigation into the allegations of misconduct. Last week, when the investigation was made public by Harrison, Shriver would not comment on the substance of her complaint. While confirming she asked for the investigation into the department, she said her office continued to prosecute cases brought forward by the department. "I am pleased to hear the matter is resolved and hope the department can move forward," Shriver said Monday afternoon about the recommendation from the attorney general's office.

Harrison said last week she didn't know about the Vermont State Police investigation either until she was told about it in December by Shriver.

Lauren Jandl, spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, referred all comment about the investigation to the Vermont State Police.

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"The Vermont State Police received a report of one potential criminal allegation involving the Bellows Falls Police Department, regarding whether Detective Checchi had improperly notified the target of a search warrant before it was executed," said VSP spokesman Adam Silverman.

The Bellows Falls Police Department is in transition; its 14-year chief, Ron Lake, has been on extended sick and family leave and plans on retiring as of March 1. The department has been seriously understaffed for about a year, and about two weeks ago, Harrison suspended Officer Josh Paulette with pay for what she called a "non-disciplinary" matter. The village has launched a search for a new police chief.

The matter of the police department is slated to be a subject of discussion Tuesday evening during a meeting of the Bellows Falls village trustees.

Wright, the village president, said the village decided to hold off filling vacancies in the department until the new chief is on board. Last week, Sgt. David Bemis, an 18-year veteran of the department, was named acting chief, replacing Fire Chief Shaun McGinnis, who had been acting chief since November when Lake didn't come back from vacation.

Wright said one member of the Bellows Falls village trustees, Stefan Golec, wants the village to close its police department and contract with the Windham County Sheriff's Department to provide police coverage. Golec couldn't be reached for comment late Monday about the future of the department.

Wright said the three-year union contract representing the police officers expires on June 30, and the contract requires a 90-day notice if the village won't renew it.

Wright said she didn't support eliminating the police department, but she acknowledged "it's always an option."

Wright said the department is struggling with understaffing, and the resulting problems of overtime and scheduling. She said Paulette is still on administrative leave.

"The state police conducts only criminal investigations and is not in a position to conduct internal affairs or internal policy investigations involving local agencies," VSP's Silverman said.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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