Tisbury has settled a federal lawsuit with a fired police lieutenant, agreeing to pay Eerik Meisner $400,000 — about four times the $114,000 he earned during his last full year on the department.
Meisner, who was first demoted and then terminated by Police Chief Mark Saloio, sued the town, alleging his civil rights were violated.
The Tisbury select board met in executive session Thursday evening, and agreed to the settlement, chairman Jim Rogers said. The vote was unanimous. He declined further comment on the advice of town counsel, except to say that he still has confidence in Saloio despite the hefty settlement.
Meisner’s attorney, Timothy Burke, issued a statement on behalf of his client. “We believe the significance of the amount of this settlement speaks for itself,” Burke wrote. “Lt. Meisner was an outstanding officer and an asset to the town of Tisbury’s Police Department, and to the community at large. Lt. Meisner believes very strongly in the statements made in this complaint, but he also accepts the conclusions reached by the mediator that settlement was in the best interests of Lt. Meisner and his family.”
The town issued a statement Friday afternoon saying that the town’s insurance company would pay $350,000 of the $400,000 statement, leaving taxpayers with $50,000 to pay directly to Meisner. Tisbury has also agreed to give Meisner a letter of recommendation from town administrator Jay Grande.
A private mediator was used to help negotiate the settlement, on the advice of the town’s insurance company, citing protracted litigation that would “likely last more than five (5) years, given courthouse procedures due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the statement. “While we believe strongly in the town’s defenses, and believed the facts, as we understood them, to be favorable to the town, we concluded that the settlement was the best course of action for the town and the police department.”
In exchange for the $400,000, Meisner agreed to release the town from all claims and withdraw his case. The town statement says the settlement “is not to be construed as an admission of liability.”
In his federal lawsuit filed in August 2019, Meisner alleges he was retaliated against for his support of Kindia Roman, a sergeant who left the department and who alleges in her own complaint that Tisbury Sgt. Max Sherman sabotaged her hiring by the Walpole Police Department. That complaint, filed by Roman with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, is ongoing.
In his federal suit, Meisner alleged he was fired six days after he met with Roman’s attorney and supported her claims against the town. “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 claimed 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.
Publicly, Saloio said he demoted Meisner to deal with overtime in the department, but Meisner’s suit alleged the chief was working behind the scenes to get him to resign.
The suit also alleges that Meisner was accused of breaking the law by illegally intercepting oral communications, based on a report from Oak Bluffs Police. No charges were ever brought against Meisner.
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 said he had no social relationship with Santon. “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.