Tisbury selectmen fire police officer Kelly Kershaw

Tisbury selectmen fire police officer Kelly Kershaw

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Tisbury police officer Kelly Kershaw, seated, center, at left, faced a disciplinary hearing before Tisbury selectmen. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Updated 1:30 pm, Wednesday, June 12

After a three-hour disciplinary hearing held behind closed doors Monday evening, Tisbury selectmen voted unanimously to fire police officer Kelly Kershaw.

“The action that was taken tonight was termination of Officer Kershaw’s employment with the town of Tisbury,” town administrator John “Jay” Grande said in a brief statement after the hearing. “I will not be commenting any further on that at this time. That’s essentially the action that was taken.”

Jennifer Smith, a police union lawyer who represented Officer Kershaw at the Monday hearing, told The Times on Wednesday that she intended to file an unfair labor practice charge with the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations that day. The state agency will investigate and decide whether to issue a complaint against the town of Tisbury.

“The town’s treatment of Officer Kershaw has been vicious and wholly unreasonable,” Ms. Smith said in a phone interview Wednesday. “We will challenge the board’s decision, in addition to filing an unfair labor practice, because the town has unjustifiably refused to provide complete information in a rather ham-fisted attempt to rob the pre-termination hearing of any meaning. I know that as the real story unfolds that Officer Kershaw will have the complete support of the community.”

Long process

The hearing began at about 6:30 pm in Tisbury town hall. Selectmen greeted Officer Kershaw and her representatives, and asked her if she wanted to exercise her right to have the disciplinary hearing open to the public. She did not answer, but her attorney, Ms. Smith, declined that option.

The three Tisbury selectmen, Jeff Kristal, Tristan Israel, and Jonathan Snyder, voted unanimously to enter executive session. One of the exceptions to the open meeting law allows selectmen to discuss discipline or dismissal of a town employee in private. The room was cleared of reporters, photographers, and several Tisbury police officers.

Selectmen, Mr. Grande, assistant town manager Aasa Jones, and the town’s labor attorney, Brian Maser, remained in the room. Ms. Kershaw sat at a table directly in front of the selectmen, flanked by Chris Kelsey, a representative of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, the union that represents Tisbury police officers, and Ms. Smith, a lawyer with the Boston law firm Sandulli Grace, which represents union members in arbitration and disciplinary proceedings.

The hearing ended at about 9:30 pm. Ms. Kershaw declined comment as she left town hall with her representatives.

The three Tisbury selectmen, appearing drained following the long hearing Monday night, declined immediate comment on their decision.

Police Chief Dan Hanavan Tuesday referred all questions to the town administrator.

In a telephone conversation Tuesday, chairman Jeff Kristal spoke for the board about the town’s disciplinary process.

“The selectman do not make up the process or the time line, we follow it,” Mr. Kristal said. “In some instances, a personnel policy dictates the process, in other circumstances the state dictates the process and sometimes the courts dictate the process.

“Last night the selectmen followed this step in the process and the town ended its relationship with Ms. Kershaw. It is time for Tisbury to look toward the future and be proud of all the good that has happened in the police department in the last few years. The police department will focus on the positive and move forward. We have an excellent police department and the town should be proud of their service to our community.”

Lack of truthfulness

The vote to fire Officer Kershaw, 30, followed an internal investigation into violations of police department policy.

Officer Kershaw left Tisbury with her police cruiser while on duty, for hours at a time and on multiple occasions, said two sources with knowledge of the investigation. The sources, who spoke to The Times prior to the hearing, requested they not be named, because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.

She then lied to investigators when questioned about the trips, according to the sources. The primary reason for her suspension and dismissal was Ms. Kershaw’s lack of truthfulness.

If a disciplinary procedure establishes that an officer has lied in the course of official police duty, that leaves the officer in an untenable position when testifying in court about unrelated cases. The officer’s testimony under oath could be called into question by the court or opposing attorneys, weakening prosecution of any case the officer investigated.

Under the law, a prosecutor would be required to give a defense attorney the officer’s disciplinary records, because they may help exonerate a defendant.

Confronted with the results of the internal police department investigation into her frequent trips out of Tisbury while on duty, Officer Kershaw denied she had violated department policy. She said her visits to the communication center were infrequent, and only related to official business.

Out of town

Officer Kershaw drove her police vehicle to the Dukes County Communications Center, located near the Martha’s Vineyard Airport terminal, during evening shifts, and remained there, sometimes for more than half of her assigned shift, according to the sources. The communications center houses radio equipment, computers, and dispatchers who handle emergency calls, and assign responses for all Island law enforcement and public safety organizations.

The Tisbury police department policy manual describes specific procedures for an officer to leave the town on police business, such as testifying in court, responding to a call for help from another town police department, or transporting people to jail after an arrest. It also covers non-police absences.

“Officers will not leave town for non-police or personal business during their shift, unless they have the approval of the shift sergeant or OIC (officer in charge) and will be reachable by radio,” the policy manual states. “If their absence is for longer than an half an hour (which should only be in unusual circumstances) they should arrange to take compensatory time or vacation time. The shift supervisor or OIC shall ensure that a minimum of two officers are assigned to the shift and available for patrol duties at all times.”

Safety concern

Public safety officials were concerned about response to an emergency. The communications center is 5.8 miles from Main Street in Tisbury, and that distance would take about 12 minutes to drive, at normal driving speeds.

They were also concerned that other police officers on duty were unaware that Officer Kershaw was not immediately available for backup.

Communications center personnel were interviewed as part of the Tisbury police department’s investigation, and confirmed the frequency and duration of Officer Kershaw’s on-duty visits, according to sources.

The dispatchers did not violate any policies or procedures, and they will not be disciplined. They were themselves concerned about Officer Kershaw’s visits, according to the sources.

Stormy history

Ms. Kershaw joined Tisbury’s police department as a traffic officer in the summer of 2002. In 2004, she became the department’s first full-time female officer in several years.

In 2009, she filed a sexual harassment claim with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. In September 2011, MCAD issued a partial finding for Ms. Kershaw but did not support all her allegations.

She is currently suing the town and the department in Dukes County Superior Court for employment discrimination. She alleges the department and her fellow officers retaliated against her for pursuing legal action.

On the evening of November 20, 2012, Officer Kershaw blacked out while driving a police cruiser and struck a tree on State Road. Officer Kershaw was placed on paid medical leave pending a decision on her medical fitness to return to work.

On May 15, the Edgartown District Court issued a criminal complaint against Ms. Kershaw for her actions during a fire at her home on May 9. The criminal complaint charges Officer Kershaw with hindering a firefighter who was trying to put out the fire, a felony, and misdemeanor charges of assault on a police officer, disorderly conduct, and threatening to commit a crime. Her scheduled arraignment on May 17 was postponed until June 28.

She was scheduled to return to work on May 23, but was immediately placed on paid administrative leave, pending Monday’s disciplinary hearing.

Comments

    1. rose i have seen this happen before when a town or selectman dont want someone around for what ever reson they will find a way to get rid of them sad in this day and age that this still happens the only reson that the person i know didn’t get fired was that he was a civil servant

      1. That’s what they do, especially the public employees unions: Protect the incompetent, preserve bloated salaries and pensions, and do it all with OUR money. No wonder BHO panders to the public service unions so muich. They are perfect bedfellows.

        1. I think most union members pay from their wedges, and most unions are run like business. So if the union has had to pay for all the lawyers fees and other associated costs I would imagine it would be in the best interest of the union to end the case as quickly as possible ?

  1. The Selectmen should be commended for standing up to what had to have been a very difficult task to undertake in a small, intimate community.
    A three hour meeting tells me the Selectmen took their job here very seriously. I would imagine there to have been a lot of facts presented, and a lot of questions asked.
    It is never a happy occasion to see someones career end in this way.
    Having followed news regarding officer Kershaw over a number of years, it seems that it is the best outcome for everyone involved.

    1. The BOS is finally on the right path, Jay Grande is paying off. This should send a strong message to the other slackers in the force. As a taxpayer, I want to see better judgment of our elected officials. Now with the new information, force her to drop this waste of money and time lawsuit.

      1. VeryAnnoyed while I agree with you on some things, there is NO WAY you can force her to do anything. She thinks she was above the law and that’s one of her problems. She will never drop the lawsuit as she thinks it’s her “payday”. I hope the judge sees through her claims.

  2. Finally! Next step, take away her gun license, she is clearly not mentally stable. Also, I think it is very sad for the Town of Tisbury’s first full time female officer to be not only a huge disappointment but also one who is giving women a bad name with her bogus law suit. Congrats selectman for finally making a good decision.

    1. Part of reason this happened is precisely because the town followed political correctness and sought out a female, local officer. We need professionalism, not pandering to political correctness.

    2. Just an fyi..she was not the first full-time female officer in VH,back in the early 70’s we had officer Welch.

    3. IF I were to make such a comment—-mentally unstable—- about ANYONE else, my comment would be deleted sooooooo fast. No matter what anyone thinks of Kershaw or TPD, The Times clearly has it in for her by all that has been allowed to be posted about her that would NEVER not be deleted about anyone else and that is a fact. But then again, this comment will probably last about a minute because it does not praise the times. Those that see it, watch, and know.

  3. Vineyard Haven mounted up and eliminated this officer and the IPM program. Next up… The County in its entirety.

      1. I think the building they are in is in a DRI zone or whatever they call it, so they would have to decide if the building would be able to be used for a bushiness and not a money pit.

  4. Going to the communication center seems innocent enough. Where do you think all the police calls come from. Not like she went to the local watering hole and had a few.

      1. I would guess that in 2013 the cruisers have GPS, have them hand over those records, along with the times she was working.

    1. Not sure there would be a reason for her to be there? Her job is to patrol the town of Tisbury not to tale 911/311 calls.

      1. Im just guessing but she probably felt comfortable there. With police you have to get along with your fellow officers cause thay have to have your back if you need back up some day. That was clearly not the case here. Im glad shes finished with the place, Now she can apply at the other 4 departments.

  5. This girl has been publicly judged in this newspaper. The reporting of events in this case has been sloppy and bias…against this woman. Who did she make an enemy with on this island?
    Whether she is a good or bad cop I think she has a case due to the incredible un-professionalism of the police and fire departments and the Tisbury selectman—-closed door means closed door, what’s left to define? Ask a 1st grader, they can explain.

    Everybody needed to keep their opinions (and that is what is published in this paper) to themselves. They are a group of arrogant, self righteous bullies.

    We will never know what Ms.Kershaw’s bad or good points are because she has already been defamed by her peers and supervisors thru leaks and innuendos publicly published.
    If Ms Kershaw doesn’t win her case it will be a miscarriage of justice. And her enemies have won her the case.

    1. leaks and innuendos? It was her that posted online in the comment sections. Who needs leaks when you have Kelly opening up her mouth.

    2. That’s the media in the United States, they can judge whomever they want, say whatever they want, its called Freedom of Speech. This paper has the RIGHT to say whatever they want to, if you don’t like it go elsewhere.

    3. There is no miscarriage of justice when you “steal” police car to run errands; crash it during a blackout; strip at a the public event and then obstruct the fireman to put out the fire at her house. Do you real think she is a good role model for female police officers?

    4. this woman needs help, Her children need help. Child protective services need this new info. If you are her friend,stop blaming others and commenting on everything what others do. Ms Kershaw is going to be lucky if she is not charged with insurance fraud and filing false claims to a government agency. She needs help. I for one want my $ back that was wasted on her. Personally i would expect civil lawsuits against her for taking $ and not protecting individuals she was hired to serve. I certainly hope no more fund raisers are planned for this scammer

      1. In this state it is extremely rare for CPS to take away children or ever actually do anything but counseling.

  6. “””””OUTSTANDING”””””!!!!!!!! CANT WAIT TO GET WHAT HAPPENED IN THERE UNDER THE “FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT” ONCE THINGS SETTLE DOWN!!!

    MAYBE WE CAN EVEN GET SOME OF OUR WASTED $$$$$ BACK BUT AT LEAST THE SELECTMEN DID THE RIGHT THING!!

    IN CLOSING, “””””OUTSTANDING”””””!!!!!!!!

  7. I would guess that if she was off-island she would most likely spend some time in the clink with pending criminal charges like ;;;;;;;;;;;; hindering a firefighter who was trying to put out the fire, assault on a police officer, disorderly conduct, and threatening to commit a crime.

  8. At age 30, Ms. Kershaw will probably be able to find another job, even if it isn’t one in law enforcement. If she were in her fifties, she’d be in trouble, due to age discrimination, and she’d be lucky even to get an interview, let alone a job.

  9. “Officer Kershaw left Tisbury with her police cruiser while on duty, for hours at a time and on multiple occasions, said two sources with knowledge of the investigation. The sources requested they not be named, because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.”—–I have a serious serious problem with this paragraph on multiple levels. Essentially they admit they are liars/people who don’t follow rules, but we should trust what they say? If they don’t have names then they aren’t quotable are they? Who are they? Santa and Mr. Coward? Santa knows who’s naughty and nice. Will these people get found and punished the way she was?
    Also I have no problem whatsoever with someone videotaping her at a totally legal event……as long as you turn the camera on yourself so we can see you were there videotaping her.

    1. I’m sure the NSA already knows about them, whistle-blowers are a good thing. Kershaw was paid by my tax dollars, as a public servant transparency should be the expectation. These two whistle-blowers did the right thing and gave the people the information they should have. Thank you.

  10. Tisbury has had a long standing problem with their police department. They employ some very capable officers, but I often wonder why they are dysfunctional at times. Could stem from lack of leadership in Town Hall. The selectmen are ultimately responsible for their employees. Time to belly up boys and look long and hard at the department.

    1. The old timers in the TPD are just that, old. The new young guns are far from dysfunctional.

  11. Wait. Is the TPD saying they were unaware of their officer’s whereabouts or they were aware, but powerless to stop what she was doing? Both circumstances make me a tad nervous.

      1. and then it didn’t come up till she had a car accident and freaked out when her house was burning down?

  12. Sure the lawyers will file the unfair practice lawsuit and the town’s legal and insurance cost will rise. Do not forget the that Police unions dues have been rising because of the flawed officers that keep abusing the union arbitration. Again, the lawyers win, taxpayers lose and shirkers get paid off.

  13. Thier are two things in law enforcement that hold true. First: it is a hard job to get, and it is an even harder job to lose. One must work hard at both. Second: No officer in Massachusetts, once proven to be a liar, in thier reports or to thier superiors has ever won thier job back in the appeal process. The arbitrators have never over-ruled any municipality in that regard.
    It doesn’t seem that the young lady wanted to be a police officer very much. Protecting the underperforming individuals is referred to as soldiering, which is when everyone lowers thier standards to the work ethic or standards of the least underperforming person.
    It happens everywhere. Its just in public service its out there for all to see.

  14. Rose, what are you talking about? Kershaw’s side? We don’t know it? She filed an MCAD lawsuit against officers and the paper had a link to that suit. She removed that suit from MCAD and filed it in Edgartown Court, the paper stated it was the same lawsuit. We’ve read her complaint in her words. How can you say we’ve heard only one side of the story? Maybe but the only side we’ve heard is her side in court documents.

  15. Obviously a relative.

    We don’t need to be instructed how to use our phones and what to take pictures of with our phones.

    If there is injustice somewhere, abuse of power, taking property that doesn’t belong to you or a question about some public official, I’ll do what I’ve always done. Question it. I don’t need some upset relative telling me to be vindictive to others (police officers in other towns) because their relative was caught doing something wrong. Ever think in this day of Mutual Aid that other towns call for police, fire and ems coverage to come into their towns?

    I have no idea what happened with Kershaw and don’t really care to speculate. It looks like business was dealt with. That’s what I expect.

    To be following cruisers from town to town is ridiculous and would be interfering with police work. Something Kelly already did with the house fire.

  16. I don’t think the “informants” you refer to and the sources the paper refers to mean the people in the meeting. I think it means other people, who were not at the meeting. I would assume everyone at the meeting has the authority to speak. I think you’re reading something into the story not there.

  17. You’re right, it is not black and white. The video that went viral was in living color.

    I am not sure what got her fired. How are you so privy to the details RoseGolden? Which bad behavior was it? There has been so much of it in the past few years.

  18. The reason it was closed was for her privacy. If you knew meeting laws you would know she had the right to open the meeting to the public and chose not to. Donald jr is right, clearly a relative!

  19. FREEDOM OF SPEECH, THEY CAN SAY WHATEVER THEY WANT. Its just like how CNN had 0 articles about the violence in the middle east last week, it should be huge news, Fox had one article on the home page and go figure the state run BBC had 8. As a reader you can read whatever you want and believe whatever you want.

  20. I don’t think that video of her at DreamLand ever made it to the times or YouTube ?

  21. I would rather have the government talking and being transparent through anonymous sources. It is our tax dollars at work and deserve to know everything that is done with them.

  22. I read the paper and it says informants with knowledge of the investigation. Not knowledge of what happened in the closed door meeting. Read it correctly.

  23. Well it spread like wild fire I think everyone got it via MMS but I never saw it posted anywhere online.

  24. rosegolden, No one has a right to be a police officer. She was fired and they had a right to fire her. What parallel universe are you living in? They believed they had a case to fire her. I am certain they got advice of attorneys and if Kershaw wants to sue let her and see if she has a case. Being a police officer does not entitle you to a job for life. Yes we can speculate all we want but they clearly are within their rights to fire her. They are her boss. She works for them and for us and she got fired plain and simple. What point are you making. I can fire the guy who works for me in the coffee shop and I can fire the woman who bakers bread for me. Work is not a right. One does not have a right to be employed and if you misbehave you will be fired.

  25. She is allowed to have the meeting closed to the public, not the information exchanged in the meeting. Why? Because she was a a town employee, a servant of the people, payed with our tax dollars. If she wanted a more private life she should have had a more private job. Your the one who doesn’t know what their talking about!

  26. The site just like everyone reserves the right to embarass itself. Some of us actually apologize from time to time.

  27. Maybe rosegolden is part of the Obama administration do whatever you please with no recourse. Oh you handed over guns to a bunch of rebels and they killed Americans PASS. The only people who leave the Obama administration leave of their own volition not because they are forced out or asked to leave.

  28. my opinion is my observation and displeasure of seeing this behavior over and over again by a member of the police force. Hopefully this behavior will be addressed and she will receive the help she needs and we will get a police officer deserving of the badge and paycheck. Not vicious behavior on my part.Just think the people of this island deserve better. Please comment on the fact this ex officer continues to try her own case on facebook and comment blogs.