Updated Dec. 3
In 2017, Tisbury froze a candidate out of a job despite sponsoring her through a top police academy. When she sought employment elsewhere, someone from the Tisbury Police Department allegedly reached out to her new prospective chief in an attempt to sully her reputation and ruin her chances by describing an outburst she made as a teenager that landed her in jail for contempt of court.
That candidate was Danielle Clermont. The employment meddling she allegedly faced bears similarity to what’s alleged by Kindia Roman, a former Tisbury Police sergeant, who says in a recently filed federal lawsuit that a job prospect in Walpole was sabotaged by somebody from the Tisbury Police Department.
Clermont’s outburst occurred June 10, 2010, at the close of the trial of Saurabh Chhibber. A jury in the Edgartown District Court found Chhibber, an Oak Bluffs businessman, guilty of two counts of indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or older. The charges were later overturned on appeal. Clermont, who was a friend of the Chhibber family and sat with them in the courtroom, made expletive-laden remarks to the victim in the case, and was immediately punished by Judge Lance Garth for contempt with a 20-day jail sentence.
Clermont is the romantic partner of Roman. Roman joined the department in 2014, and filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) in 2018, and a federal complaint in November, where she alleged she was harassed at the Tisbury Police Department for being a Hispanic, gay woman. Among other things, the complaints also alleged that a member of the Tisbury Police Department prevented her from being hired at the Walpole Police Department by painting her as a problem in the police union. The federal complaint accuses a Tisbury Police Department member of triggering an employment review panel to raise “the issue of [Roman’s] relationship with Danielle Clermont” and in doing so, “questioned her judgment,” and, as the MCAD complaint stated, allegedly caused the review panel to ask Roman “to retell my girlfriend’s back history,” which was deemed “alarming.”
Reached separately by phone, Clermont and Roman declined to comment for this story.
Clermont interned at the Tisbury Police Department in the autumn of 2015 before she graduated summa cum laude from the University of Massachusetts, Boston. In late 2016 she attended the Boston Police Academy, where she was sponsored by Tisbury Police Chief Dan Hanavan, but paid her own way. She graduated in June 2017 as a squad leader, and near the very top of her class. She went on to apply to two police departments, Tisbury and Westwood. In the end, she went all in for Tisbury.
“She said she really wanted to be a police officer, thought it would be great if she could do that in her hometown, and said that as much as she’d be honored to work in Westwood, Tisbury had offered her the job,” Westwood Police Chief Jeffrey Silva told The Times in an email. “She stated that because she was still in the process for Westwood, and therefore had no guarantee she’d get a job offer from us, she needed to take the guaranteed job offer in Tisbury rather than risk winding up with nothing.”
She was not an immediate shoo-in, former Tisbury Police Lt. Eerik Meisner told The Times. “Ms. Clermont was not offered a job prior to completion of the academy. She then interviewed for one of several open positions at the Tisbury Police Department,” Meisner wrote. The reason she didn’t automatically get a job, according to Meisner, is “there’s a difference between full sponsorship, where the municipality pays the recruit to attend the academy after having hired them as an employee,” and sponsorship via letter. For the latter, according to Meisner, a chief “vouches” for someone after a background check, and that person funds their own training “with no guarantee of employment. In essence you are a free agent, and can interview with any department.” This was Clermont’s case at the time, Meisner wrote.
Clermont’s interview panel included select board member Jeff Kristal, Massachusetts State Police Sgt. Joseph Pimentel, and members of the police department, Meisner wrote. “She finished in the top three of the candidate pool at the time.”
Chief Hanavan later offered her conditional employment, he noted. “She was scheduled to be appointed by the board of selectmen at their weekly meeting,” Meisner wrote. “Ms. Clermont notified her family and friends; on the day of the meeting, it was canceled. I was informed by Chief Hanavan that the town had received a letter in regard to Ms. Clermont, and she would not be appointed. Shortly thereafter I was informed by Chief Hanavan that we had a hiring freeze.”
Asked to explain what happened, Tisbury town administrator Jay Grande noted Clermont is mentioned in Roman’s suit. “I am not going to comment on any pending litigation,” he said. “I think the former chief would have to do that.”
Reached in person at his home, Hanavan declined comment on Clermont.
Gabrielle Chronister, a longtime friend of Clermont’s who graduated from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) with her, told The Times she was among those invited to see Clermont sworn in before the select board. “Hours before, I remember either getting a text or a phone call that it was canceled,” she said. “The whole situation was just crazy.”
Former Boston Police Academy Superintendent Lisa Holmes also planned to attend the ceremony.
“It was canceled,” she said. “We didn’t know why … It was enough notice that we hadn’t left yet. It was that same day.”
Holmes described Clermont as “outstanding,” and said were it not for civil service impediments, “she would have been a Boston Police officer.”
She said Clermont was “heartbroken” and “devastated” by the turn of events. “Her dream was to be a police officer in her hometown,” she said. “I thought it was unfair what Tisbury did to her.”
Emails obtained by The Times show that 11 days before the select board meeting, Chief Hanavan made clear an offer was on the table, and pointed to the time and place the offer would be realized. “You are on schedule for the selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday, July 11, at 5 pm,” he wrote. “The interview board recommended you be given a conditional offer of employment. You will need to have a physical and the psychological test. The select[men’s] meeting will take place at the Tisbury Fire Station by the Tisbury School. The entrance to the large meeting room is in the backside of the building. You should be in business clothes as you were for the job interview.”
A draft agenda for a July 11, 2017, Tisbury selectmen’s meeting (select board now) that is date-stamped July 7, and a revised agenda stamped the same day with 3:51 pm hand notation, list Clermont as part of the administrative session:
“Police Chief, Danielle Clermont: Approval to Extend Conditional Offer of Employment – Police Officer.”
Neither agenda was available on the town’s website, and had to be requested by The Times from the clerk’s office. The agenda available online is date-stamped July 11, with a 2:54 pm hand notation. Clermont is not on the agenda.
From court to jail to Westwood
After the sudden loss of the job at the Tisbury Police Department, Clermont was able to revive her application to the Westwood Police Department. In the midst of that process, someone rang Chief Silva and tried to sour his opinion of Clermont.
“The caller at the time identified himself as a male police officer from the Tisbury Police Department and gave his name, although I don’t recall his name now,” Chief Silva emailed. “He indicated he ‘would hate to see any police department get stuck with a bad cop.’”
The caller then described the outburst Clermont made in a courtroom, an incident she had already been upfront about. “By contrast,” he wrote, Clermont “relayed the story pre-emptively, without ever having been asked … “[T]he caller was trying to use back channels to have what he called an ‘off the record’ conversation. As it relates to character, that alone says it all.”
Silva determined the caller was focused on tainting his opinion of Clermont. “Once it became apparent to me that this caller was trying to character-assassinate a candidate by attempting to prejudice me as the person who would make the final decision to present a candidate for hire,” he wrote, “I gave the caller the name and phone number of my background investigator. I told him that any information should be given to my detective, and that he would investigate the information and include it in his report to me if he found it to be verifiable, relevant, and material to the candidate’s application. I then ended the call.”
When Chhibber’s sentence was read aloud in the Dukes County Courthouse in 2010, Clermont was 19 years old. In addition to being a family friend, Clermont worked for Saurabh Chhibber’s brother Sonny as a bartender at the Island House in Oak Bluffs. As The Times reported then, she accosted the victim in the courtroom.
“When the sentence was announced, and court officers handcuffed Mr. Chhibber, family members sobbed loudly, and pleaded with court officers not to take Mr. Chhibber away,” The Times reported. “As court officers tried to quiet the courtroom, Danielle Clermont, a family friend, got up [and] approached the victim, who was sitting across the courtroom in the first row. Ms. Clermont leaned over the benches, pointed at the victim, and yelled a stream of insults and epithets. Court officer David Oliveira and Oak Bluffs Police Detective Nick [Curelli] took Ms. Clermont into custody, but as they began to take her out of the courtroom, Judge [Garth] asked the officers to bring her forward to the bar.”
The official court transcript shows Judge Lance Garth swiftly brought the power of the court to bear against Clermont. “I find you in contempt of court, ma’am, and I sentence you to the House of Correction for 20 days.”
“I was shocked,” Sonny Chhibber recently told The Times.
Chhibber said Clermont was immediately taken from the courtroom. Later he tried to bail her out, but said he was told “there was no bail when a judge contempts.”
Chhibber said Clermont was eventually “transferred to a girls’ jail that was off-Island.”
Clermont apparently spent a night in the custody of the Dukes County Sheriff’s Office before being taken to the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office. Dukes County Sheriff’s Office Superintendent James Neville declined to provide Clermont’s incarceration records, claiming they were exempt from disclosure. The Times has appealed to the state’s Supervisor of Records. A decision is pending. The Times also requested Clermont’s incarceration records from the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office. Donna Buckley, general counsel for that office, took a similar stance about Clermont’s records. After three appeals to the Supervisor of Records, Buckley hasn’t produced them, despite an order to do so. The matter remains active with the state. A certificate of release obtained elsewhere by The Times shows Clermont spent 19 days in the custody of the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office. On June 11, the same day she was incarcerated in Barnstable, court records show Oak Bluffs Detective Nicholas Curelli filed a charge of witness intimidation against Clermont. That charge was later dismissed without an admission of guilt in exchange for a year’s probation.
Curelli, who investigated the Chhibber case, told The Times the courtroom was a “very emotionally charged, chaotic scene,” after the sentence was read. “I remember her jumping up,” he said of Clermont. “I thought she was going to attack her.”
Curelli’s report allegedly quotes vulgarities Clermont yelled. However, the official court transcript reads differently, and an official audio recording quotes her differently.
“I didn’t have the luxury of hindsight — of listening to it word for word,” Curelli said when asked about the discrepancy. He further said there was “no intent by me to mischaracterize anything.”
Asked if he intends to amend his report based on the discrepancy, Curelli said, “I don’t see that happening.”
“It certainly took me off-guard that that happened,” Chhibber’s former attorney, Peter Lloyd, said of Clermont’s outburst. “I think it’s fair to say it affected everybody in the room.”
He described the outburst and the contempt ruling as “generally not something you see at a trial.”
Clermont’s former lawyer, Barnstable attorney Robert Lawless, declined to comment on Clermont’s case specifically. “Generally speaking,” he said, “a person should be afforded counsel before being incarcerated.”
He also said, “generally speaking,” in all his years in law since 1982, which included being a New York City prosecutor and the former vice chair on criminal justice for the Massachusetts House of Representatives, “I’ve never seen a person, or have represented a person, who was sentenced to jail for criminal contempt.”
Meisner made it clear Clermont had informed the Tisbury Police Department about the courtroom incident. “Ms. Clermont was upfront in regard to the [Chhibber] situation; she brought it up before it could be asked at both her internship and her review board interview.”
Clermont was hired at the Westwood Police Department and later, so too was Roman.
In regard to Clermont, Chief Silva wrote that it is “common” for candidates to have “blemishes” on their records. “I don’t think there is anyone who looks back on their lives with the clarity of hindsight who wouldn’t do or say some things differently, or not at all,” he wrote. “I think the ability to think critically, reflect on one’s actions or inactions, then adapt, learn, and grow is a strength, not a weakness. I also think it is important for police officers to be able to relate to and empathize with the people they serve. If any person thinks he or she is better than anyone else, or can’t embrace sympathy, empathy, mercy, forgiveness, tolerance, or compassion, and understand that everyone makes mistake[s], that is not the type of person I want working for me.”
Hypothetically, Curelli said, if he were the Oak Bluffs Police chief and Clermont applied there, he wouldn’t hire her.
Silva wrote that the bar for denial is much higher. “Serious and/or repeated lapses in judgment, unremorseful misconduct, or other crimes and behavior that display a consistent lack of character, integrity, and sound judgment are things generally incompatible with employment as a police officer,” he wrote. “Minor mistakes by someone in or barely out of their teens is an entirely other matter. To use such things against someone with otherwise exemplary qualifications, like Ofc. Clermont, would not only be arguably illegal, it would be incredibly unfair, imprudent, and self-righteous. We examine candidates holistically in the context of who they are, not myopically, based on a comparatively minor thing they may have done.”
He went on to write that Clermont is a great employee. “Ofc. Clermont so far has been an excellent police officer,” he wrote. “She is very bright, extremely driven, hardworking, thorough, decisive, fair, and compassionate. She has been selected and certified as a drug recognition expert, a field training officer, and an evaluator for new technology and equipment for our department. I’m proud of all of our staff, and consider them as caring, talented, and compassionate people; Ofc. Clermont is no exception. Danielle Clermont was not just a good candidate, she was an exceptional one. Truly special. She has a tremendous amount of talent and potential as a police officer, and I’m delighted that she has chosen our community in which to serve.”
Clermont and Roman’s relationship
Asked if Clermont was in a relationship with Roman while the two were working at the Tisbury Police Department, and if so, if such a relationship broke any department policies, Meisner wrote that the question was moot. “Ms. Clermont was never hired as an employee, therefore she could not have broken any rules or policies,” he wrote. “Her relationship with Ms. Roman did not break any policies.”
Asked how he manages Clermont and Roman as a couple in his department, Silva made it clear he doesn’t manage them in that context. “I don’t manage anyone’s personal life,” he wrote. “My employees are all adults and all professionals. If anyone’s personal life interfered with or negatively impacted the performance of their duties, I would address that shortcoming. I do not comment on or intervene in my staff’s personal lives unless they break the law or it negatively impacts the workplace. I do not know, nor would I comment if I did, about Ofc. Roman’s and Ofc. Clermont’s relationship status, if any. I do know about their employment status, however, and that status is that they are both very smart, friendly, talented, highly qualified people, and I expect continued great things from them both. I am honored to have them on my team, and I think the town and the police department is a better place with them in it. “
Meisner, who recently settled a wrongful termination suit against the town, wrote he was “disappointed” Clermont “was not made part of the Tisbury Police Department.” In addition to many of her virtues he cited, he wrote, “A police department should be a reflection of the community; Ms. Clermont was part of the local community,” and would have made an “excellent addition” to the department.
Though disappointed, Meisner wrote, “I happily gave her an excellent recommendation to her current employer.”
Updated to correct the spelling of Nicholas Curelli and to add hyperlinks for key agendas.