SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 27, 2010

Anketell says disclosure of records illegal

By Jesse Roman
Staff writer

Damian Anketell filed complaints yesterday with the Massachusetts attorney general and state Ethics Commission alleging that Sheriff Frank Cousins "illegally disclosed" Anketell's personnel information to The Salem News.

A spokesperson from the attorney general's office confirmed that the office had received the complaint and was reviewing it.

Anketell, a Democrat who is running against Cousins for Essex County Sheriff, is a former corrections officer at Middleton Jail, where he worked under Cousins from 1995 to 2005.

The information in question is the workers' compensation pay Anketell received during his time as an employee of the department. The records, released to The Salem News last week in response to a public records request, showed that Anketell left his job at the jail in 2005 after receiving more than $180,000 in workers' compensation and other benefits over the course of nearly four years.

"I elected to file these charges because I believe what Sheriff Cousins did was unlawful," Anketell said yesterday in a written response to questions from The Salem News. "It is my hope that other corrections officers injured in the line of duty are treated with dignity and respect by Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins."

Anketell went on to ask, "How is what Sheriff Cousins did to me any different than what Sgt. Bettencourt of Peabody did?"

Bettencourt, who was a lieutenant on the Peabody Police Department, was found guilty in 2008 of illegally accessing birth dates and Social Security numbers of 21 fellow officers.

Cousins said Anketell's complaint and accusations against him have no merit.

"We disclosed payroll records because those are public records. His salary was paid with public dollars, tax dollars, and can be disclosed to the public," Cousins said in an interview yesterday. "If (a newspaper) called tomorrow about another (Sheriff's Department employee) and asked what they were paid, we would provide that info also. The public has a right to know."

"This was public information and very factual," Cousins continued. "It's unfortunate that this is all he has to talk about."

Anketell said in a previous statement that he was "viciously attacked" by an inmate in January 2002. As a result, he worked just eight months between then and when he resigned in November 2005, according to department records. During that time, he was paid $152,469 in workers' compensation wages — including $60,000 in a lump sum when he left — and another $28,669 for personal time accrued while he was on paid injured leave.

Anketell has thus far not granted interviews to reporters about the injury or the circumstances that led to his departure and has only released statements.

Public records in Massachusetts are defined by statute as "all books, papers, maps, photographs, recorded tapes, financial statements, statistical tabulations, or other documentary materials or data ... made or received by any officer or employee of any agency, executive office, department, board, commission, bureau, division or authority of the commonwealth."

There are several exemptions to the law, which include "personnel and medical files or information; also any other materials or data relating to a specifically named individual, the disclosure of which may constitute an unwarranted invasion or personal privacy."

The Salem News received no medical files, only workers' compensation pay figures from the department.

"Smearing an injured worker's reputation violates the public trust," Anketell said in a statement. "Like the inmates he houses, (Cousins) is not above the law."

Anketell also claimed that Cousins provided "misleading information about Anketell's injuries," the statement said. Anketell, in another statement, claimed that in 2005 when he decided to return to work at the department, "his job had been eliminated."

Cousins said that's false.

"The bottom line is in 2005 I personally asked him to come back to work," Cousins said. "His job was not eliminated. We asked him to come back, and he chose not to."

Anketell maintains that Cousins lied about his work history.

"Cousins never disclosed that I was assaulted by an inmate; he claimed I went out on disability, which I did not; he claimed I refused light duty, which I did not; and he implied that I took a lump sum for disability, which I did not," Anketell said in an e-mail. "He also neglected to mention that I was entitled to assault pay, and neglected to mention that my light duty job was eliminated, so there was no job to return to. All of the accurate information was well-known to Sheriff Cousins, and he intentionally omitted these facts to mislead the public."