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Vergennes police chief resigns

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Posted on September 7, 2009 |
By John S. McCright



VERGENNES — Vergennes Police Chief Mike Lowe resigned on Friday and city officials expect to received police officer Matt Roorda’s official letter of resignation next week.

Lowe has been battling criminal charges of driving under the influence, embezzlement and prescription drug-related crimes.

City Manager Mel Hawley received Lowe’s letter of resignation mid-morning Friday. In the letter, Lowe said he was resigning “for health reasons.”

The Vergennes chief for more than seven years, Lowe was suspended after he was charged with driving under the influence of prescription drugs after he crashed a Vergennes police car into a parked car on June 7. He pleaded innocent in Addison County District Court to that charge on Aug. 10.

The state attorney general’s office then brought charges of unlawful possession of a prescription drug; two counts of obtaining prescription drugs by fraud or deceit, including appropriating a city patrolman’s prescription for more than a year; embezzlement because he “fraudulently converted to his own use” a handgun that had been seized as evidence; and neglect of duty by failing to return the handgun to its rightful owners. Lowe pleaded innocent to those charges on Aug. 24.

An affidavit from the attorney general’s investigation and made public after the Aug. 24 arraignment alleged that Lowe persuaded Vergennes Patrolman Matt Roorda to regularly turn over his prescription for Adderall, a stimulant, between the fall of 2007 and May 2009. Roorda told Thomas Howell, and investigator from the attorney general’s office, that he was not using the drug, for which he had a legitimate prescription, because “he does not like the way it makes him feel.”

At times Roorda gave Lowe the pills, and at times Lowe simply picked up the prescriptions himself, according to the affidavit. Two of the fraud charges stem from Lowe’s dealing with Roorda.

Roorda talked to Howell with the understanding “that the State would not directly use Roorda’s statement’s against him.” Assistant Attorney General John Treadwell, who is handling Lowe’s prosecution on the five charges detailed on Aug. 24, said it remained “conceivable” Roorda could face prosecution, but said he could not comment on whether an investigation is ongoing or even being considered.

Roorda’s statements could theoretically provide the starting point for a probe, Treadwell said.

“They could be used as the basis to initiate another investigation,” he said.

Hawley put Roorda on administrative leave, with pay, on Aug. 27; he declined to describe the grounds for the action.

Hawley said he was notified by state officials that Roorda had filed an unemployment claim on Aug. 28. Hawley has been in contact with Roorda’s lawyer, who told Hawley that he should expect to receive Roorda’s letter of resignation on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

Mayor Mike Daniels said that Roorda had a “a very unfortunate start. He is a very young person who go off on the wrong foot. We wish him well.”

Hawley acknowledged that he was not surprised by Lowe’s resignation.

“When I served Mike with his first charges it made reference to the fact that we’d serve additional charges after the affidavit was made public,” Hawley said, referring to the affidavit made public after Lowe’s Aug. 24 arraignment.

Hawley never did get a chance to serve the second set of charges from the city.

Daniels said Lowe’s resignation was “probably in everyone’s best interest.”

“We’re very story,” Daniels continued. “We wish (Lowe) the best in everything — in his health and everything else.”

Daniels added: “A lot of people around here say he was very nice as a chief and as a person. At this point the court has to decide his future.”

LOWE’S BACKGROUND
Mike Lowe, 51, joined the Vergennes Police Department from a law enforcement job in Florida in 2001. Then City Manager Randy Friday hired Lowe as chief after Chief Joe Anthony left the job in 2002.

The affidavit that became public Aug. 24 stated Lowe had surgery on Nov. 15, 2007, after which he was prescribed Oxycodone, a narcotic painkiller. The affidavit noted that Lowe himself expressed concerns about addiction. On Nov. 27 he told a physician that the Oxycodone was too strong and requested Hydrocodone because he wanted to “taper off the drug,” according to the affidavit.

On Dec. 10, the affidavit, stated Lowe saw a physician’s assistant who “expressed concern about his apparent dependency on Oxycodone and requested Lowe sign a ‘taper agreement,’ which he did.” Records from Dec. 18 and 31 from Fletcher Allen Health Care show Lowe acknowledging feeling addiction to Oxycodone.

MOOD OF THE DEPARTMENT
The rest of the police force knows of Lowe’s resignation, Hawley said, but he declined to speculate on their feelings about it.

Vergennes Police Sgt. Pat Greenslet returned to active duty last Tuesday after being on disability leave since March 16.

Daniels said he will appoint a committee — made up of citizens and a city council member or two — to search for a new chief.

“We hope to have a chief within a month and a half,” Hawley said.

Daniels noted that former city chief Ted Minall continues to serve as Vergennes’ public safety consultant, and that Vergennes police officers continue to perform their jobs.

“The guys are doing really well,” Daniels said of the remaining members of the Vergennes police force. “They are up to serving the city to their fullest extent. In tough times people pull together, and they are pulling together.”

The mayor also applauded aldermen for their patience and helpfulness in the Lowe matter.

“The council has been helpful through this whole process,” Daniels said. “They were asked questions by citizens and they (the councilmen) were not briefed in great detail on this because they were going to be on a board that heard evidence in the case and were going to be asked to make a decision.

“The council was very fair about this process.”

Addison Independent reporter Andy Kirklady contributed to this story.

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