PORTSMOUTH — Police officer Aaron Goodwin was poorly managed and improperly fired five years ago, during a dispute over his $2 million inheritance from an elderly resident, entitling him to two years of back pay, an arbitrator ruled in a decision being challenged by the city Police Commission.
The “award” to Goodwin is cited in one of three orders the Portsmouth Herald just obtained after arguing for their release in Rockingham County Superior Court, then the state Supreme Court. Goodwin’s union argued the report is a personnel record and therefore shielded from the public, but the Herald’s lawyer, Richard Gagliuso, won the landmark case, easing the personnel records shield.
Goodwin said in a statement Monday, “I proposed publicly releasing the arbitration decision to the union after it was decided and still believe the findings should be public. In exchange to settle this case with the city, I offered to donate any money owed to me to charity.”
The amount owed Goodwin is about $145,000, the city’s labor lawyer Tom Closson said Monday. Police Commission Chair Joe Onosko previously said it is not covered by the city’s liability insurance and would have to be paid with tax dollars. The union lawyer representing Goodwin, Peter Perroni, did not immediately return the Herald’s message seeking his comment.
In a written statement, the Police Commission said, ”The Commission disagrees with the arbitrator’s decision to award Mr. Goodwin back pay, and has appealed that portion of the arbitrator’s decision to the Rockingham County Superior Court.” Closson said the appeal is pending.
The commission also stated it’s “pleased with the arbitrator’s decision not to reinstate Aaron Goodwin to his position with the Portsmouth Police Department.” His union had argued he be returned to work.
Goodwin’s June 25, 2015 firing was made by former police chief Stephen DuBois, “with the full support of the Portsmouth Police Commission,” it was announced in a press statement at the time.
“The decision comes after extensive review of the findings of the Roberts Report and careful deliberation over six meetings,” it was announced.
The Roberts Report was published by a panel led by retired Judge Stephen Roberts and funded with $20,000 approved by the City Council. The report noted Goodwin violated three regulations in the Police Department’s Duty Manual and three regulations in the city’s Code of Ethics, all pertaining to his large inheritance from the late Geraldine Webber who, her doctor testified, had dementia.
According to the newly released records, Goodwin’s union argued the panel’s findings could not be used against him because the commission promised all police personnel interviewed, “There would be absolutely no repercussions of any kind, personally or professionally, to anyone who speaks with the Task Group.”
The union also argued Goodwin could not be disciplined for conduct his supervisors were aware of and condoned. The arbitrator wrote two former chiefs and a former deputy chief believed Goodwin could not be disciplined for his off-duty behavior, including inheriting Webber’s house, if it wasn’t connected to his on-duty behavior.
The report notes Goodwin called Webber almost daily while on duty, visited her three times while on duty and, while command staff knew this, there were no repercussions. He met Webber on duty, while working as a police officer, by all accounts.
“Although the Task Force found Officer Goodwin made poor individual choices, his choices were based on the Command Staff’s misinterpretation of the Rules and improper advice,” the arbitrator found.
Because Goodwin wasn’t told by anyone he was violating the rules and he should have refused Webber’s bequests, “the inaction of the Commission and Command Staff mitigates Goodwin’s misconduct and just cause to fire him was not established,“ the arbitrator found.
Goodwin’s inheritance was overturned by probate Judge Gary Cassavechia who found Goodwin unduly influenced Webber while she was changing her estate plans to his benefit. The 2015 ruling came after a 10-day probate hearing and overturned Webber’s 2012 trust, which had given Goodwin her waterfront home, Cadillac and valuable stocks and bonds.
In a second opinion just released, the arbitrator found the probate court ruling had no bearing on Goodwin’s firing two months earlier, but was relevant in determining how much he is owed for his wrongful termination.
In her third of three orders, arbitrator Bonnie McSpirtt found Goodwin is not entitled to get his police job back, but is owed money due to his wrongful discharge. The record shows the city argued for two months of back pay; the time between the task force report and the probate judge’s ruling. The union argued for back pay from the date of Goodwin’s firing to the date of the arbitrator’s decision.
The arbitrator chose neither, instead ruling Goodwin should receive back pay and benefits from his date of termination to Aug. 7, 2017, when he would have been fired if rules were followed. She noted Goodwin was not afforded due process rights, his right to a hearing and an opportunity to be heard prior to his dismissal.
“Clearly, Officer Goodwin is not blameless in this matter since his misconduct is the center of the turmoil in the Department and in the City of Portsmouth for the last seven years,” the arbitrator wrote in a 2017 order. “Although I have determined the Department did not have just cause to terminate Officer Goodwin, it is not because he did nothing wrong, it is because the Rule was not enforced correctly and (Goodwin) was improperly supervised when he was not informed his conduct was violating Department Rules and he needed to denounce Ms. Webber’s bequests.”