January 17, 2008

Suit: DiPaola Fired Ex-Officer Over Politics

By Hillary Chabot, The Sun, Lowell, Mass.

Jan. 17--BOSTON -- Former Middlesex corrections officer Leo Tousignant claims he was bullied, his house was videotaped and he was eventually fired for crossing political lines and supporting Middlesex Sheriff Jim DiPaola's political opponent in 2003.

Tousignant, who claims he was an award-winning all-star in the department when he supported DiPaola politically, alleges his career stalled after he helped Lowell Police Acting Deputy Superintendent Robert DeMoura's campaign, according to a lawsuit he filed yesterday.

The discrimination culminated in a paranoid outburst at Cobblestones restaurant when DiPaola claimed Tousignant and DeMoura were trying to set him up for a drinking-and-driving arrest, according to the lawsuit.

"DiPaola and his agents harassed and treated (Tousignant) in a hostile, discriminatory manner in retaliation for his political association with Robert DeMoura," Tousignant's attorney, Kevin Powers, detailed in a 17-page civil complaint filed in federal court.

Tousignant, who now works at UMass Lowell's

police department, claims he is still facing retaliation from DiPaola, who has refused to make him a deputy sheriff. The promotion is necessary for Tousignant to make arrests or write citations, according to the lawsuit.

Michael Hardigan, a spokesman for DiPaola, said the office hadn't received the complaint yet, and said the office doesn't comment on ongoing litigation.

"The Middlesex Sheriff's Office does not discriminate against anyone for any reason," Hardigan said.

Powers, who helped win a $275,000 settlement for a Brockton police officer in a similar discrimination case in 2004, declined to say how much Tousignant is looking for in compensation.

The lawsuit requests compensation for lost wages and benefits as a result of the termination after 10 years on the job, along with money for emotional pain and damage to Tousignant's reputation.

The lawsuit alleges that shortly after Tousignant began supporting DeMoura in 2003, an attorney and political contributor of DiPaola's allegedly asked Tousignant why he supported DeMoura, and indicated the move could come back to haunt him.

A superintendent later told Tousignant that he better watch out because "Sheriff DiPaola was out to get him," Powers wrote in the lawsuit.

Tousignant then faced roadblocks when it came to his requests for sick time and time off, and he had run-ins with DiPaola supporters in the following years, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also details a day-long surveillance of Tousignant's Chelmsford home by two unmarked cruisers when Tousignant called in sick. The men in the cruisers allegedly videotaped Tousignant's house.

During a Special Operations unit gathering at Cobblestones in 2005, DiPaola allegedly said he hated Tousignant and chastised his staff for not "taking (Tousignant) out." The same evening, DiPaola said Tousignant, who was attending a birthday party for a friend in another room, was conspiring with DeMoura to set him up for a drinking-and-driving arrest.

Tousignant was allegedly fired in July 2006 for leaving a shift too early. Tousignant, who argued in the lawsuit that a migraine forced him to leave early, said he was fired only two days after his disciplinary hearing. Two unmarked cruisers allegedly drove up to his house, and officers demanded Tousignant's keys and badge.

"(Tousignant's) daughter had come out of the house ... standing petrified in the driveway, she began to cry after witnessing two men aggressively exiting the vehicles, packing guns, and ordering (Tousignant) to move, now," the lawsuit details.

The lawsuit comes as DiPaola faces another discrimination lawsuit filed last year by John Shankhour, a Syrian corrections officer who claims he was taunted by racial slurs in the workplace. Powers also represents Shankhour.


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