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Westminster Police Officer Suspended 5 Days

January 8, 2019

WESTMINSTER -- Police Officer Nathan Hawkins was suspended from the force for five days without pay after town officials found sufficient evidence that he had violated several department policies, including abuse of position and conduct unbecoming a police officer.

The Board of Selectmen imposed the punishment following a disciplinary hearing Tuesday night.

The dates of the suspension will be made at the discretion of Acting Police Chief Michael McDonald, according to the board.

The decision follows an incident last October, when Hawkins admitted to accessing and then distributing surveillance footage between McDonald and then-chair of the Police Search Committee Steve Hemman. Hawkins said he sent the video to another member of the committee in order to expose what he believed was evidence of bias and corruption in the town’s hiring process.

At the disciplinary hearing, Selectman Wayne Walker said he found the argument that Hawkins was acting as a whistle-blower unpersuasive, and questioned how the officer could be aware of the internal workings of the committee.

“All of the committee’s deliberations on the assessment and grading of candidates were held in executive session and therefore not available for public release,” Walker said. “This question, I believe, is central to your actual motive for committing violations of the public trust.”

Further, Walker pointed out that one of the six candidates for the position of police chief, James Witzgall, was Hawkins’ first cousin.

“This to me is clearly information that leads me to be skeptical of what may be your actual motive behind your improper actions, and you attempted cover-up of those actions,” Walker said.

In response to allegations that he failed to inform selectmen that his family member was a candidate for police chief, Hawkins said he had never been asked by the board about the connection. He also denied having any improper contact with Witzgall.

“He’s my first cousin, he goes to the Oakmont football games, (and) I have contact with him as a relative,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins was found in violation of five department regulations, including dissemination of public records. The board was unanimous in three of the charges, but Selectman Heather Billings voted against finding Hawkins responsible for abuse of power and conduct unbecoming a police officer.

Walker called the disciplinary action a “difficult but necessary step,” and said the suspension was the result of Hawkins’ own actions.

“No one wishes to impose disciplinary action against an employee of the town, (and) in my 25 years in town government this is the first time I have ever been called upon to do so,” Walker said.

Follow on Twitter @stephenlandry17

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