Police Chief Joe Solomon Talks of Drugs, Politics and all those Lawsuits
By: Tom Duggan, August 8, 2012
Methuen Police Chief, Joe Solomon, appeared on 980AM WCAP’s Paying Attention! Radio Program with Tom Duggan last month where he revealed details about Methuen’s increasing crime problems, his recent court battles with the city, and the direction of the Methuen Police Department.
The most recent court decision in Solomon’s favor was released last month when a judge denied the city’s appeal of the Civil Service Commission’s reinstatement of Solomon.
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The matter of Solomon’s employment is now permanently over as Mayor Zanni says that the city will not appeal the case any further. Solomon was initially fired on September 28, 2007.
Duggan:What’s the biggest crime problem that Methuen faces?
Chief Solomon: We actually have two that are tied and we get complaints from the citizens all the time. #1 is the excessive traffic meaning people speeding through small neighborhoods. #2 is the mobile street drug dealing.
It’s on the quiet streets. It has infiltrated almost every neighborhood. In my neighborhood I saw a woman about four months ago; she was walking up my street which is a dead end street. She looked dazed; she was staggering back and forth. I called into station and I approached her and a vehicle pulled up on the street and one of the people was inside doing heroin. It turns out they had just purchased their heroin off of Rte. 213 and pulled onto my quiet street to shoot it. We are seeing that in all the quiet neighborhoods. It doesn’t matter where you go in the City of Methuen, whether you are in the Arlington neighborhood or the Homestead Acres, it’s everywhere. What we are really finding is it’s more
in the quiet neighborhoods than in the Arlington neighborhood. They buy their drugs in the Haverhill Street area, the Jackson Street area, and the Merrimack Street area, usually right at the border with Lawrence, and they pull up to the first quiet street they can find and thy start taking their drugs. Or the drug dealers meet the buyers on a main road and they follow them to one of our quiet neighborhoods. We are having a lot of problems around Haverhill Street and that whole area around Glen Ave and Savoy and some of the side streets where there is a lot of drug dealing going on. So, I would say drug dealing and the traffic those are the top two crime problems in Methuen.
We are focusing on it. We are working with our drug unit; we have a member of the Essex County Sheriffs department working with the federal DEA in Boston. You know through your sources, you had a story about the DEA making a bust in Methuen this week. So that story that you ran online was the third major arrest that we’ve made. Just before Christmas there was a major arrest which involved about 40 pounds of marijuana.
The other one was two or three months ago on Prospect Street. We did a house raid where we were able to recover some cocaine and it was a significant drug dealer. Working alongside the State Police drug task force, the Essex County Sheriffs, the DEA and Lawrence Police Chief John Romero we have really been able to focus in on solving the problems. You’ve been around a long time Tom, you haven’t seen any really big drug busts like we had in the 70’s and 80s. These last three arrests have returned significant quantities of drug s. Between the street level dealing and the high level dealing we are working with all the state, local and federal agencies. Hopefully working together we are going to make an impact on the Valley.
Duggan: Tell us about the current federal lawsuit against the city?
Chief Solomon: Well the basis of it is surrounding the damage that was done to me and my family and my reputation. You know we tried to resolve things amicably. I had a resolution to all matters with former mayor Manzi. Unfortunately the majority of the city councilors decided not to show up to a meeting, so it wasn’t resolved.
Since then there have been a couple of cases the city has lost with me; therefore, the damages to me have been increased. My hope is that at some point the city will want to sit down again and resolve this matter when former city members all work together for personal reasons. Unfortunately, the poor citizens bear the brunt of it. And I don’t believe that is fair. I attempted to hold somebody personally responsible, but the city decided to take that responsibility upon them.
So, we are hoping to just resolve the matter; I have been instructed by the lawyers not to be speaking about specifics. The damage that was done to me, my reputation and my family was for political and personal gain. We are hoping to resolve the matter short of trial because a trial isn’t good for anybody.
Duggan: Well we know what kind of damage was done to your reputation by the Eagle Tribune especially when they reported that child porn was found in your locker after you left, but that was part of a criminal case you were working, right?
Chief Solomon: Quite frankly the information that was distributed by the city and what was spewed and what was written did far more damage overall than just the mere firing because most firings aren’t as pubic. It’s interesting because I have seen news stories… when you are talking about the [child porn] in the locker and the media coverage it attracted. I actually watched the stories about my situation on the internet. One story was based in Japan, one in China, and one that was actually played in Lebanon where I have family members. So it was a story that was picked up internationally and went viral across the world so yes, it was extremely damaging personally and professionally.
But I want to be positive now that I’m back. I want to just focus on doing our jobs. We are making a lot of progress in returning things to the way they were pre-2007, to overcome some of the issues that occurred between 2007 and 2010. I think we have made a lot of progress.
Unfortunately, the other people who suffer a lot were the police officers and their families because during that time period a lot of them had to listen to statements being made about the quality of the Methuen police officers in general and unfortunately that reflects upon the citizens and the officers. Hopefully as this stuff starts to wind down, officers can feel better about having pride in police dept. for which they work. You know, Tommy, we had great pride. We worked together and we had a great decorum; it’s going to take a long time to rebuild that but, I am here for the long haul. I have seven years left and I’m not going anywhere.
WORKING WITH MAYOR ZANNI
Duggan: Tell us about this leak from the Zanni administration about the lawsuit and why it is that members of the city feel as though they should be letting out confidential information about a lawsuit to the press?
Chief Solomon: I was instructed by my attorney not to discuss anything that occurred during that meeting. So, once we saw something about it [in the press], my lawyer took that action that he thought was necessary. He filed the necessary paperwork, the city filed a response, and I am hoping at some time there will be a hearing with the federal government, but I can’t speak to any of that per my lawyer.
Duggan: How are you working with mayor Zanni with all this stuff going on?
Chief Solomon: We’re working together. When the mayor got elected we sat down, we met and talked, and agreed we had to be professional. Remember, I came back with Bill Manzi still having time left to serve and we worked together for 14 months completely professional. And that is what the job requires so I work with him [Zanni].
I am sure with what has occurred there’s some uneasiness there. I continue to do my job and he continues to do his job. Regardless of personal feelings you have to do what the job requires because we have peoples’ lives we protect. If I could come back to work with Mayor Manzi I can work with anyone.
NO LONGER DRINKING BUDDIES
Duggan: How are you getting along with Billy Manzi (the former mayor)? You guys used to be friends, you grew up together. Now that it’s all over do you guys go out for drinks any more or is that kind of over at this point?
Chief Solomon: No, I don’t think what we had on a personal level will ever exist again. I have seen him at a couple of events because of his most recent run for office. We are professionals. I call him ‘Mr. Mayor” and calls me ‘Chief’. You know you do what is expected. You are expected to be respectful of current or former city officials. That’s the kind of person I am. But as for hanging out, I don’t think that’s going to happen.
Duggan: So you are not endorsing him for Senate I guess?
Chief Solomon: (laughing) I won’t comment on that.
Duggan: Prior to your firing you guys were doing some amazing work in the Arlington Neighborhood with Linda Soucy and community policing, but then you left. Now that you got your job back, what is the situation like now? Is it as good in the Arlington Neighborhood? Has the area continued to progress the way it was before you were fired?
Chief Solomon: It’s a rebuilding process; during that period of time officers were constantly being drawn from that area. We put back community outreach and assigned a police officer back there. We also have our traffic officers who routinely patrol. We were renewed for the Federal Shannon grant which allows walking patrols. The walking patrols are working for gang and drug activity at the Loop, Prospect Street and the Prospect Street area. We are now expanding those patrols out to Haverhill Street, but we are still working there and the summer athletic league is starting up again in the Arlington Neighborhood.
So, it really isn’t as good as it was back when we had five or six people we could really focus on there, but we are rebuilding. We have six police officers in the academy right now. We have two more going to the academy in August. By January those officers will be on the street and we can start to deploy some manpower and put some more focus down there.
Luckily, the work that was done in that whole time frame of 2002 to 2007, the excessive amount of patrols and the neighborhood groups working together with all the neighbors, was able to sustain itself. This proves that it works when people work together but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
NO DISCIPLINE FOR OFFICER
Duggan: Talk about this other story that the Tribune thought was news; it wasn’t news, but they thought it was. I am referring to the story of the police officer who pulled over Mayor Zanni and then let him go. Did you discipline that officer because of the publicity around that situation?
Chief Solomon: Based upon the reports that I received, I reviewed that, and quite frankly, part of this job Tommy is that you get a lot of pressure, but I was not going to discipline somebody just because there was public pressure. Based on what I saw the officers have the authority to use discretion. I don’t think there was any abuse of that discretion. There was no drinking and there was no operating to endanger, so they used the discretion that is assigned to them. So I chose not to discipline them. Again, there’s a lot of pressure on you when stories run and people ask, “why didn’t you do anything?”
I think if this was another department they would have done something; however, I believe you must look at the facts and those facts didn’t warrant anything, they were routine.
During the motor vehicle enforcement we did that day we stopped about 500 cars. Approximately 80 of those cars got verbal warnings and there were about 320 citations issued. Somewhere in all of those written citations were also warnings. So the officers have been giving a significant amount of warnings. This economy is hurting people, so if we can stop you and tell you to be safe, rather than fine you … you know the officers have been a little hesitant to fine a lot of people and I support that kind of enforcement; it’s all about education.
There is more heavy enforcement coming and I am sure when we do it we will get more negative publicity, but I am a traffic enforcement guy. I believe when you are out there enforcing the traffic laws, other violations appear and you come across other things like guns and drugs.
You know there was a time when you came into Methuen the word was you slow down and make sure you had a license because you are going to get stopped. I’d like to get back to the point where people know you drive safely in Methuen because you know what? Your life is the life that really matters and the life of your family.
There are too many people getting into these high speed accidents because everybody is distracted. So, we will be doing much more motor vehicle enforcement, but there was no discipline issue [on the Zanni matter] because I didn’t think it was warranted.
TEXTING AND DRIVING
Duggan: Do you guys make a lot of stops for texting and driving?
Chief Solomon: Well I’ve only seen a few citations for that. I’ve made a couple myself and gave warnings on those. I was driving down Route 28 and I saw the car crossing across lanes a couple of times. When I pulled up alongside of them I noticed they were texting so I pulled them over. I do believe it is dangerous. It is part of what the officers look for, but we are not doing specific texting enforcement. There has been a subject that the captains have brought up to me and said that maybe we should post some officers at different intersections and just watch for people who are texting. So what I asked them to do is to take a survey to see if that’s warranted. If the answer is that there is a significant amount of that going on then we will do that as part of our enforcement, but currently it’s routine enforcement, if you see it pull them over.
Duggan: When you were fired Kathy Lavigne was hired to be chief, she was given a contract and then you came back. How are you guys working together now that the tables have flipped a few times?
Chief Solomon: We have a professional working relationship. She is overseeing some of the grants, budgets and purchase orders and payroll. We work together; I am using the skills that she gained when being chief in the realm of financial management. She is handling those responsibilities and I am handling mine. We just work together for the betterment of the city and everyone and there really haven’t been any issues as of this point in time.
STEPPING UP ROAD ENFORCEMENT
Duggan: What’s coming up next for the Methuen Police? Tell us something nobody knows about.
Chief Solomon: We are going to be stepping up enforcement on Rt. 213. Tommy, I am sure you have driven Rt. 213. It’s become a roadway where there’s a lot of excessive speed; there’s been a lot weaving in and out of traffic.
I have had a lot of conversations with the State Police and we are going to be doing a coordinated effort there come August so I suggest that people slow down because there are going to be a lot of cops out there.
Duggan: Is there anything else you want to tell our listeners and readers before we let you go?
Chief Solomon: To all the citizens in Methuen or those who drive through Methuen, please be courteous and drive safely. We’d rather have you get through safe than have to pick you up off the pavement. So have a good summer and drive safely that’s all I can tell people.
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