Current WPD officer admitted in 2011 to misconduct and lying to investigators

Irene Loewenson

Williamstown Police Department (WPD) Officer Craig Eichhammer admitted in 2011 to misconduct involving a civilian and to lying about it during an investigation, and he remained on the force with apparently minimal discipline, according to a document obtained by the Record this week through a public records request. Eichhammer has recently been the subject of scrutiny after being placed on a list maintained by the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office of law-enforcement officers who are largely disqualified from testifying in court because of concerns about their credibility.

In a April 2011 last-chance agreement — which laid out terms the officer had to abide by in order to keep his job — Eichhammer acknowledged that he was guilty of misconduct described in a civilian complaint that had sparked a Massachusetts State Police investigation. Eichhammer also admitted in the agreement that he had previously lied to then-Chief Kyle Johnson about the misconduct. Interim Town Manager Charlie Blanchard (who assumed the role this spring) said in an email to the Record that Eichhammer was also “not truthful during his initial interview with the State Police” regarding the misconduct.

The last-chance agreement made clear that there were ample grounds for firing Eichhammer, who acknowledged in the agreement “that dismissal would be appropriate in this case.” But instead, he held on to his job.

Blanchard told the Record via email that, in 2011, “the Police Chief, Town Manager, DA, victim and State Police Captain all agreed that no charges would be filed and he would not be terminated, and the incident was resolved with a Last Chance Agreement which included discipline and treatment.”

According to the agreement, Eichhammer was placed on a one-year probationary period, “essentially equivalent to that imposed on newly-hired officers.” He also had to forfeit 10 vacation days. And for the rest of his time on the force, he would be fired for any offenses along the lines of the one that he had admitted to previously. The Town has redacted some of the agreement’s other conditions.

“Officer Eichhammer has assured the Town Manager and the Police Chief that he is aware of the seriousness of the situation, accepts responsibility for his actions, and is committed to turning around his life and performance as a Police Officer,” the agreement reads.

The documents that the Town provided to the Record did not describe the nature of Eichhammer’s misconduct. But based on the timing and the fact that it involved a civilian complaint and a State Police investigation, it is likely related to the 2011 sexual misconduct that former Sgt. Scott McGowan alleged in a complaint filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). In that complaint, McGowan alleged that in 2011 an officer, whose name was redacted, sexually assaulted a Town resident at her home. In its response to McGowan’s complaint, the Town acknowledged that a female resident had “express[ed] her concern about an off duty incident” involving an officer, but it “dispute[d] the characterization of the incident.”

The Berkshire Eagle reported in November that the officer named in the complaint was Eichhammer. Moreover, Blanchard confirmed that Eichhammer initially lied to State Police about his misconduct — as did the officer who allegedly sexually assaulted a Town resident.

In a lawsuit filed against Johnson, the Town, and then-Town Manager Jason Hoch ’95 in August 2020, McGowan alleged that the same officer whom he accused of sexual misconduct against a Town resident had also displayed a photograph of Adolf Hitler in his locker at the police station through 2019. The Town neither confirmed nor denied this allegation. McGowan withdrew the lawsuit in December 2020, the day after Johnson resigned as chief.

McGowan signed Eichhammer’s 2011 last-chance agreement in his role as then-head of the WPD union; the other two signatories were Eichhammer and then-Town Manager Peter Fohlin.

The WPD disclosed the last-chance agreement to the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office, which in September 2020 placed Eichhammer on its newly created Brady disclosure list. The list contains the names of police officers who have engaged in or been accused of misconduct that would raise questions about the officers’ credibility as witnesses in court. If prosecutors were to call Eichhammer as a witness, they would have been required to share with the defense lawyers the information that would undermine his credibility.

Town officials confirmed at a virtual June 28 Williamstown Select Board meeting that the DA’s Office had recently placed Eichhammer on an even more severe version of the Brady list: the “do not call” list. The credibility of these officers is viewed as so compromised that prosecutors are barred from relying on them as witnesses, with only limited exceptions.

What I can tell you is that people who are on the ‘do not call’ list have been found to have lied about a material fact during the course of a criminal investigation,” District Attorney Andrea Harrington said at a July 26 Select Board meeting.

Eichhammer is appealing his placement on the Brady list, Interim WPD Chief Michael Ziemba told the Record. Eichhammer did not respond to a request for comment sent by the Record through Ziemba.

At the June 28 Select Board meeting, several Town residents raised concerns about Eichhammer’s continued presence on the force in light of the officer’s placement on the Brady list. But Town officials said there was little they could do about it.

“It was established very clearly that the ability of a town to discipline an officer for the same event a second time is, like, none,” Select Board member Andy Hogeland ’76 said, citing a similar scenario that unfolded in Chicopee, Mass. 

“That bridge has been crossed, and decisions that were made 10 years ago are not reversible at this point,” he added.

Blanchard, as the interim Town manager, is the one who would have the authority to remove Eichhammer. But he said he has no plans to do so.

“The Town made a decision ten years ago to enter into an agreement to give the officer the opportunity to save his career which he has complied with,” Blanchard told the Record via email. “I do not feel the Town should now renege on that agreement due to the DA’s current policy on compliance with the disclosures required by Brady v. Maryland.” (Brady v. Maryland is the landmark 1963 Supreme Court case that requires prosecutors to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence, like a witness’ history of not being credible, to the defense.)

Blanchard also noted that Eichhammer has not faced any more allegations of dishonesty in his last decade on the force. 

The recent revelations about Eichhammer are the latest in a series of scandals that have roiled the WPD in the last year. In August 2020, McGowan filed a federal lawsuit against the Town, the WPD, and Hoch alleging sexual misconduct, racism, and retaliation within the department, especially by Johnson. The Select Board denied many of the allegations, but it admitted to an incident in which a WPD dispatcher said the N-word while a Black Williams student was touring the police station in 2014.

Johnson resigned in December 2020 in the wake of calls by local organizers for his removal from the WPD. McGowan withdrew his lawsuit the next day. McGowan later came under scrutiny after he was named in a WPD employee complaint alleging that McGowan himself had committed sexual and racial harassment, leading the department to place him on paid administrative leave. 

Ella Marx contributed reporting.