WPD sergeant placed on administrative leave

Ella Marx

Editor’s note: This article contains descriptions of domestic assault.

Williamstown Police Department (WPD) Sgt. Scott McGowan was placed on paid administrative leave last week after he was named in an employee complaint. According to the Berkshire Eagle, the complaint alleged bullying and verbal harassment of other officers. Town Manager Jason Hoch ’95, who will soon step down from his role, instructed Michael Ziemba, the acting chief of the WPD, to place McGowan on leave because of the complaint, Hoch told the Eagle.

An investigation conducted by the Eagle also determined that in past years “McGowan had run-ins with area police departments, including being charged in a domestic assault and battery case in North Adams.”

McGowan had not been notified of the content in the recent complaint before Hoch instructed Ziemba to place him on leave, McGowan attorney David A. Russcol told the Eagle. Russcol also questioned if the employee complaint was retaliation for McGowan’s August lawsuit.

“Sgt. McGowan is obviously concerned that a complaint may have been made in retaliation for his lawsuit against the town,” Russcol wrote to the Eagle in an email on March 5. “He is also concerned that the town reacted to the complaint by immediately placing him on leave, when that has not been the town’s response to complaints in the past.”

Two anonymous sources told the Eagle that the complaint against McGowan was “filed by all other rank-and-file” full-time members of the WPD. It states that other WPD officers “have no confidence in McGowan’s ability to perform his assigned duties,” according to the Eagle

The complaint has not yet been made public. The Eagle also reported that the complaint does not have the name of the Williamstown Police Association on it.

In June 1999, McGowan was arrested on charges of domestic assault and battery, according to a police report obtained by the Eagle. McGowan’s girlfriend at the time stated to the North Adams Police Department on June 3 that McGowan “threw her into a wall… pushed her to the floor, sat on top of her, and started choking her.” She filed a restraining order against McGowan on June 4 and cited physical abuse by McGowan as her reason for wanting the order.

In November 2009, McGowan, then employed by the WPD, received a one-day suspension after he pled guilty to negligent motor vehicle operation in Bennington, Vt., the Eagle reported. McGowan was administered a breathalyzer test, and his blood alcohol level was 0.065, under the Vermont legal limit of 0.08. When someone is suspected of drunk driving and pulled over, but their blood alcohol level is under the legal limit, they are charged with negligent operation of a motor vehicle, State Attorney Erica Marthage of Bennington told the Eagle in 2009.

The Eagle also reported that McGowan drove up a walkway at Thompson Chapel at the College late in the evening on April 9, 1997, and a College security officer requested that the WPD respond to the incident. The College officer’s request stated that “Operator MV may be intoxicated.” Although Kevin Garner, the WPD officer who responded, said that he smelled alcohol on McGowan’s breath, “[McGowan] didn’t appear to be under the influence.”

In August 2020, McGowan brought a lawsuit against Hoch, former WPD Chief Kyle Johnson, and the Town of Williamstown. The complaint alleged that former WPD Chief Kyle Johnson and other unnamed WPD officers committed acts of racial harassment, anti-Semitism, and sexual assault, and that the WPD was a “hostile work environment.”

Hoch decided to retain Johnson in October, but Johnson resigned in December after months of controversy. In February, Hoch announced his resignation, effective 60 days from Feb. 19. He will oversee personnel transitions through the Select Board elections in May.

McGowan’s allegations contained in the August complaint against the Town are currently under an independent investigation commissioned by the Select Board, which will be led by Judy Levenson, an attorney from Brookline, Mass. Levenson will include the new complaint against McGowan in her investigation of McGowan’s original lawsuit. 

Andrew McKeever, the spokesperson for Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington, told the Eagle that the Brady Review Board will consider the assault and battery charge involving McGowan in upcoming months, but the board has not yet considered McGowan’s case. McGowan is currently not on the board’s watch list.

In July 2020, the Berkshire County District Attorney’s Office adopted a Brady Policy, an initiative that “detail[s] requirements for prosecutors in disclosing potentially exculpatory evidence to defense counsel” to promote public trust in law enforcement. Harrington’s office keeps a watch list of police officers identified as having engaged in or having been accused of misconduct that would undermine their credibility as witnesses in court. WPD officer Craig Eichhammer was placed on the Brady List in September 2020.