By Brian Genest
Valley Patriot DRACUT COLUMNIST
The clock is ticking and the legal bills are piling up at Dracut Town Hall over a request for public records about Tony Archinski.
In addition to already being a far-too-expensive and far-too-lengthy process, it’s also incredibly suspicious, based on the circumstances. If justice delayed is justice denied, in this case, justice has apparently been discarded.
In January of 2022, town resident Kevin O’Brien submitted a public records request asking for documents related to Archinski’s employment as a town police officer. In response, O’Brien got hundreds of pages of documents, which he published online and provided to the media and producers of television shows at Dracut Access Television, including Eye On Dracut. Among the public records released from Archinski’s file were internal investigations, disciplinary actions, settlement agreements and other documents.
Many of the released documents included redacted information. Information about a half-dozen items was completely withheld.
O’Brien appealed the town’s decision to redact and withhold the information to the state’s public records keeper. The town was ordered to provide all documents in unredacted form, except for the names of victims and other personal information, but their release has been delayed for months and months. O’Brien came to the July Board of Selectmen’s meeting and asked why it’s taking so long for the town to produce the public documents he’s legally entitled to receive.
It’s a great question, considering he’s been waiting a year and a half.
Here’s some other questions taxpayers should be asking: Why is this public records request being treated differently than all the others before it and after it? Why has it taken so long to produce these public records? Why has it cost the town more than $10,000 in legal fees? Who is responsible for running up the legal bills over this matter? Why hasn’t the town complied with two orders from the secretary of state and released the documents in a timely manner?
Could it be that the documents are being withheld because they don’t make Archinski look very good, to put it mildly?
Some of the Archinski documents previously released were about two disciplinary issues: violating the police department’s shotgun policy and what is referred to as “The Lo Kai incident,” where Archinski failed to properly handle an assault and battery.
As a result of the shotgun policy violation in 2004, Archinski received a two-day suspension without pay for insubordination and violating the general orders of the Dracut Police Department. The internal investigation report questioned Archinski’s truthfulness.
Also in 2004, as a result of the “Lo Kai incident,” Archinski received a two-day suspension without pay for failing to properly handle an assault and battery while working a paid police detail.
The internal investigation found four of the allegations in the citizen complaint to either be unfounded or unsustained because of inadequate evidence. However, investigators found the fifth allegation—that Archinski failed to provide any type of medical assistance to the victim of an assault and battery after they had suffered obvious physical injuries—to be valid and supported by sufficient evidence.
In their report, investigators said, “Quite simply put, there was little if any action taken. Lt. Archinski’s failure to address the following constitutes a failure to act appropriately as a police officer in this situation.” The report lists seven issues, including never identifying the suspects or witnesses at the scene, never submitting a report documenting what he observed, never informing police department personnel after his detail was completed that a fight occurred and not taking any type of police action in response to an assault and battery that occurred in his presence.
Investigators said Archinski’s actions demonstrated a total lack of effort to investigate the incident that occurred. “The investigators have concluded that there can be only two reasons for his failure to act. Either he had a desire to protect one or more of the participants from some type of future judicial sanction, or he just simply took a laissez-faire attitude and chose to do nothing in an attempt to shirk work responsibilities,” the report said.
Investigators concluded: “…there is strong and convincing evidence which rises above the threshold of the preponderance of the evidence standard that indicates Lt. Archinski was not truthful when he answered questions posed by the investigators…” during the internal investigation.
Archinski retired from the Dracut Police Department under a 2007 Settlement Agreement with the town. The shotgun policy violation and Lo Kai incident were predominant subjects of that agreement.
As part of the agreement, the suspensions for the shotgun policy violation and Lo Kai incident were both rescinded and expunged and Archinski was paid for the four days. In addition, Archinski was appointed to the position of “assistant to the parking clerk” and received $40 per week in special pay, retroactive to July 31, 2007, until he retired on December 31, 2008. It’s unclear what Archinski did to earn the special pay, but it’s clear he padded his pension with it for the last 18 months he was on the town payroll.
O’Brien says he got a new batch of documents a few days after the July Selectmen’s meeting, but they still contain many redactions and exclude documents related to several incidents involving Archinski.
For example, in one instance, Archinski was accused of sending an email in 1998 described by Police Chief Peter Bartlett as “offensive and profane.” The email was printed and posted on the bulletin board in the police department and resulted in a complaint against Archinski from a fellow officer, saying it was discriminatory. Originally, the documents about the internal investigation, including officer statements, were produced, but the email itself was withheld.
In the most recent batch of documents, the email was again withheld, although other documents related to it were released.
In another incident, from 1996, Archinski was accused of posting a cartoon on a fellow officer’s locker in the police station. That cartoon, which was previously withheld, has now been produced. The caption Archinski allegedly provided with the cartoon, however, is still redacted.
O’Brien says he’s once again asked the secretary of state to make the town turn over the missing documents and documents without redactions. He’s also asking the attorney general’s office to investigate. An investigation should be done about the timeframe and why the release of these documents has been stalled. It’s taken far too long. The spirit and letter of the law are clear: public records should be made available to the public, quickly.
— Brian Genest is the producer and host of Eye On Dracut, winner of the 2022 Hometown Media Award for News.◊