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Worcester Police Officer Files Lawsuit Against City, Former Chief

By Tom Marino | February 6, 2024
Last Updated: February 6, 2024
Worcester Police Department Headquarters

WORCESTER – A Worcester Police officer has filed a lawsuit alleging four civil violations via eight incidents involving former Chief of Police Steven Sargent. Both Sargent and the City of Worcester are named as defendants in the complaint filed in Worcester Superior Court on Feb. 1.

Worcester Police Officer Robert Belsito filed the lawsuit, which alleges the following violations:

  1. Whistleblower (M.G.L. ch. 149, § 185Retaliation against employees reporting violations of law) v. City of Worcester
  2. Massachusetts Civil Rights (M.G.L. ch. 12 § 11H, I, Violations of constitutional rights; civil actions by attorney general; right to bias-free professional policing) v. Sargent in his official and individual capacities
  3. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress v. Sargent in his individual capacity
  4. Intentional Interference with Advantageous Business Relations v. Sargent

Much of the complaint filed by Belsito is based on the city’s own findings in an independent investigation it commissioned, that was completed in January 2021. That report did not become public until shortly before Sargent retired in September 2023. The report by the independent investigator is included at evidence with the complaint.

Part of the conclusion of the report included:

“The Chief’s actions may not be numerous or individually significant, but in the aggregate they constitute a pattern of bullying and intimidation that has interfered with Officer Belsito’s ability to do his job. While the Chief’s actions may not rise to the level of unlawful discrimination or harassment,48 it is apparent that he has been engaging in a campaign of reprisal against Officer Belsito, which is antithetical to the Department’s values and a violation of its Code of Ethics.”

Also included in the complaint is a letter from then-City Manager Ed Augustus to Sargent, dated Jan., 12, 2021. The letter highlights key findings from the investigator’s report that Sargent:

  • Transferred Belsito to the Records Division after using the city email system that is against policy, but commonly engaged in by many officers without discipline;
  • Confronted Belsito outside the police department on May 24, 2020;
  • Agreed to transfer Belsito to the Court Division, but on an uncustomary schedule;
  • Called Belsito’s Air National Guard unit and implied he was AWEOL from WPD, which “creates an issue of retaliation base on military status as a protected category.”

Augustus warned Sargent that retaliation against Belsito for filling such a complaint is illegal, but issued no formal discipline against Sargent.

Accusations that occurred after Augustus’ letter include Sargent placing Belsito on administrative leave in April 2023 without cause, and suspending his License to Carry a Firearm from April 15 to May 8, 2023, without cause. This occurred after Belsito says that Sargent followed him in a department vehicle from the department parking lot, nearly causing a collision and forcing two verbal confrontations on April 15, the same day Belsito was placed on leave.

 

 

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