An Oak Bluffs Police sergeant says he was forced to resign after alerting the chief and town leaders that a police assault rifle was missing, a letter from his attorney alleges. That rifle, a Bushmaster M4, was later reported found.
Oak Bluffs Police Sgt. Michael Marchand has notified the town he intends to sue for retaliation under the Massachusetts Whistleblower Protection Act. The town erroneously blamed Marchand for the rifle’s absence, according to Marchand’s attorney, Tim Burke. Burke told The Times Marchand was placed on administrative leave following internal discoveries he made, and was told he would be terminated if he didn’t resign. Such a termination would have upended health insurance for Marchand and his family, Burke said. Marchand did resign, Burke said, and in doing so lost all access to the Oak Bluffs Police Station. The day after he resigned, Burke alleged, the rifle was discovered in the station. Burke described both the timing and the situation as “outrageous.” Marchand later rescinded his resignation, but was kept on administrative leave, Burke said.
In a letter to the Oak Bluffs select board and town administrator Deborah Potter, Burke alleges Marchand discovered a number of records deficiencies and other problems related to department firearms — including the missing rifle being falsely assigned to him. Burke alleges Marchand notified his superiors of his findings, and was subsequently “forced or coerced” to resign.
“One of Sgt. Marchand’s first inquiries following the retirement of Lt. [Timothy] Williamson was to conduct an audit of the department’s firearms and establish stricter controls over the departmental issuance of weapons,” the letter states. “On or about Oct. 19, 2021, Sgt. Marchand discovered that there was a missing M4 assault rifle that had been erroneously categorized as ‘assigned’ to Sgt. Marchand, despite the fact that the weapon had been returned three (3) years prior. Sgt. Marchand immediately notified his supervisors, retired Lt. Williamson, as well as Chief Erik Blake of the missing M4 rifle. Shortly after making the disclosure of the missing firearm, as well as the disclosure of other complaints regarding illegal conduct within the OBPD discussed herein, the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen, under the threat of termination, forced and coerced Sgt. Marchand to resign from his position with the OBPD. Sergeant Marchand’s complaints and objections to his supervisors also include, but are not limited to, the following incidents:
- Disclosure of the OBPD’s failure to properly account, record, and secure an M4 Assault Rifle;
- Failure to complete an audit of any of the Oak [Bluffs] Police Department–issued firearms for the past twenty (20) years despite the accreditation requirement;
- Failure of the annual firearms training to record serial numbers for firearms utilized during yearly qualifications;
- No Armorer’s report conducted, including, but not limited to, a failure to complete weapons function checks on issued M4s.
- No documentation of firearms being taken or issued by the Oak [Bluffs] Police Department;
- No documentation of firearms being issued to officers for personal reasons including, but not limited to, hunting and target practice;
- A deficient security system surveilling the exterior and interior of the Police Department;
- No log entry for take-home cruisers being issued or returned;
- Failure to properly secure the storage vault off the Sergeant’s office, where firearms are
- A Special Officer who currently works for the Chilmark Police Department, who was
issued a firearm by the Oak Bluffs Police Department, has never been subjected to an armorer’s check or inspection of any kind.
As part of its alleged retaliation against Marchand, the letter alleges, the town ignored other potentially culpable people.
“Despite the subsequent discovery of the firearm within the station,” the letter states, “as well as information regarding the improper issuance of this weapon by another member of the department to be taken off-Island for academy training, Sgt. Marchand continues to remain on administrative leave while the other individuals identified remain in their positions.”
Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake declined to comment on Marchand, the rifle, or records matters related to Lt. Williamson. Chief Blake asked that all inquiries be channeled through Potter or attorney Jack Collins, whom the town seems to have retained as labor counsel for this matter.
Reached by phone, Williamson declined comment.
According to Burke’s letter to the town, Marchand faced no disciplinary action in his 30 years as a police officer — the past 16 in Oak Bluffs. He wrote that Marchand would have been in line to take over for Williamson, and possibly a candidate for chief when Blake retires.
In a companion letter to the Oak Bluffs personnel department, Burke requested a copy of Marchand’s personnel file.
“We request a full and complete copy of any and all written documents contained in Sergeant Marchand’s personnel file within five business days following receipt of this request. If there are additional ‘personnel records’ maintained by multiple offices outside of the Town of Oak Bluffs Personnel Department, we request any and all copies and/or versions of Sergeant Marchand’s disciplinary and/or personnel file including, but not limited to, any ‘personnel records’ in the possession of the Police Department,” the letter reads in part.
Additionally, the letter asks for written or recorded statements provided by Marchand relating to a missing M4 rifle and relative internal investigation records. The letter further requests evidence such as emails and documents be preserved.
The rifle in question was found by Blake earlier this month, according to a press release signed by select board member Brian Packish. Blake previously told The Times the gun was semiautomatic and a “.223 caliber patrol rifle,” and is commonly referred to as an assault rifle. The rifle was checked out nearly three years ago, and was claimed to be missing after a routine inventory.
Packish could not immediately be reached for comment.
After the gun was designated missing, the town launched an independent investigation, and placed an unnamed police department employee who checked out the gun on paid administrative leave.
That turns out to be Marchand.
The select board has met several times in executive sessions, most recently on Tuesday, to “discuss the reputation, character, physical condition or mental health, rather than professional competence, of an individual, or to discuss the discipline or dismissal of, or complaints or charges brought against, a public officer, employee, staff member, or individual, and not to reconvene in open session.”
The Times made a public records request on Nov. 29 for the report done by the town’s independent investigator, and minutes from the select board’s Nov. 24 executive session, but both requests were denied. Town administrator Deborah Potter could not immediately be reached for comment.