Updated 2:40 pm
A fired Tisbury police sergeant says he was first demoted from lieutenant and then fired without cause because of his support for a female officer who was harassed while with the Tisbury department, and later had a job offer with an off-Island department “sabotaged” by a Tisbury officer.
In a federal lawsuit filed last week, Eerik Meisner seeks $1.2 million in damages, alleging that he was retaliated against, his civil rights were violated, and his contract with the department was breached. Meisner alleges that his pregnant wife suffered a miscarriage just two days after he was demoted. The suit points specifically to the news of the demotion being published in the newspaper.
Meisner was dropped in rank to sergeant in November shortly after Police Chief Mark Saloio took over for Chief Daniel Hanavan. Meisner, a lieutenant for the department for six years, applied for the chief’s job, but was not a finalist.
He was fired six days after supporting Kindia Roman’s claims in a Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) filing against the town, the suit alleges. Roman left the department, but as she was about to take a job in Walpole, the offer was withdrawn, according to the suit. An internal investigation led by Meisner found “a member of the Tisbury Police Department had, in fact, intentionally and maliciously interfered with the hiring of Officer Roman by the Walpole Police Department,” the suit alleges. Roman took out the MCAD complaint alleging sexual harassment by the town and, specifically, Det. Max Sherman, according to the suit. MCAD won’t confirm cases unless a decision has been made, a spokesman for the state agency said.
Meisner alleges in the suit he was told it would be in his interest to support the town and not talk to Roman anymore. Six days after he met with Roman’s attorney and supported her claims against the town, Saloio fired him, according to the suit. “Chief Saloio called [Meisner] into his office and ordered [him] to turn over his service weapon to Officer Andrew Silvia. Chief Saloio then ordered [Meisner] to give him his badge and ID card, along with any keys because [Meisner] was ‘all done.’”
Meisner left the building still in uniform, but without his badge and gun, the chief telling him he was still within his probationary period as an acting sergeant, according to the suit. “[Meisner] alleges that his firing in this manner by Chief Saloio was without any justification, and was done to personally humiliate [him] in front of his work colleagues.”
Meisner claims he was retaliated against by Saloio, who told Meisner he had been told “a lot of bad things about [him],” and that he was “bad news” and “dangerous,” the suit alleges.
While publicly Saloio was saying the changes were to deal with overtime in the department, Meisner’s suit alleges the chief was working behind the scenes to get him to resign.
The suit talks about the public announcement of Meisner’s demotion at a selectmen’s meeting, and alleges that was in “an effort to further coerce him to resign from the department.” It also alleges Saloio confronted him about hiring a lawyer, even though Meisner filed his own MCAD complaint without consulting one.
At one point, according to the suit, Saloio accused Meisner of breaking the law by illegally intercepting oral communications, based on a report from Oak Bluffs Police. No charges were ever brought against Meisner.
Meisner referred calls to his attorney, Timothy Burke.
“I think it’s clear that Eerik was a successful and caring member of the Tisbury Police Department, wrongfully terminated because of his support of a female police officer who was the subject of harassment while she was employed there, and her subsequent attempts to find employment were sabotaged,” Burke told The Times.
Sherman and Saloio both referred questions to town administrator Jay Grande. Grande initially said he was unaware of the suit, but when a copy was forwarded to him, he refused to comment, calling it a “personnel matter.”
The suit also alleges that Meisner’s troubles with the town began when then-Officer Mark Santon fabricated a story about him in 2016. Santon was given a one-day suspension.
The suit alleges that Santon is friends with former selectman Tristan Israel, and the two were once roommates. When Santon was fired in 2017, Israel “became vocally antagonistic to Chief Hanavan, and announced to the local newspaper that he wouldn’t be reappointing Hanavan as the chief of police when his contract expired.”
The suit criticizes Israel for participating in the discipline of Santon, calling it “unethical, if not illegal.”
Israel denied he had any conflict. “I was never a roommate of Mr. Santon’s,” he said. “I tried to treat everyone in Tisbury fairly and the same, and that includes Mr. Meisner.”
In contrast to Meisner, Santon faced discipline three times and had two hearings before selectmen before being fired. He was ultimately fired for falsifying a police report stating that a man’s keys were in the ignition at the time he was arrested and charged with operating under the influence of alcohol. Meisner was never brought before the board when he was terminated by Saloio.
Updated to include a comment from Israel.