BEVERLY — The Beverly Police Department bypassed a more qualified candidate and instead hired relatives and friends of current officers to be reserve officers, according to a ruling by the state's Civil Service Commission.

The commission said police Chief John LeLacheur unfairly bypassed Cambridge firefighter Nicholas Menard and chose other candidates, including one with multiple driver's license suspensions and another who was involved in a fight in high school that required the victim to have two surgeries.

The parents of the victim wrote a letter "strongly opposing" that candidate's appointment as a reserve officer, the commission said.

In its ruling on Thursday, the Civil Service Commission said the hiring process was "unduly subjective" and based on "factual inaccuracies and processes that are inconsistent with the basic merit principles of the civil service hiring process."

The commission ordered the Police Department to place Menard's name at the top of the list for future permanent reserve police officer openings or, if the department is not appointing reserve officers, for the position of full-time police officer.

Menard, who lives in Beverly, said he could not comment on the ruling, but added, "Civil service is a great and wonderful thing. It seems like a fair process."

LeLacheur said he disagreed with the commission's ruling but will abide by its findings. 

"I thought we presented a good case, but they made their decision and we'll honor the decision," he said.

The decision does not affect the status of the reserve officers who were hired instead of Menard, LeLacheur said. Reserve officers are used to supplement the full-time force and are candidates when there are full-time openings.

Mayor Mike Cahill declined to comment on the ruling.

Uncle involved in hiring

Menard first became a candidate in Beverly in May of 2016, when the city was looking to hire nine reserve police officers. In a hearing before the commission, Capt. William Terry testified that Menard did not have an impressive interview.

But the commission noted that Menard and another candidate who was hired — who is the nephew of Beverly police Capt. Tim Hegarty and the cousin of another officer — gave the same answer to an interview question, yet Hegarty's nephew received a higher score from the Beverly officers who conducted the interview.

The commission also noted that Hegarty gave the orientation presentation for the hiring process, saying he was "at least partly involved in the hiring process when he should not have been involved at all."

In a letter informing Menard about his decision, LeLacheur did not cite any negative reasons for bypassing Menard but listed the reasons he chose Hegarty's nephew, the commission said. The nephew worked as a part-time patrolman, reserve officer and auxiliary officer at the police department of a nearby community, completed the academy for reserve and full-time officers, was in the military police, had no criminal record, and no civilian driving incident since 2007, the commission said.

Menard appealed the decision to the Civil Service Commission, but agreed to withdraw it when LeLacheur said he was conducting another round of hiring.

This time, LeLacheur hired four candidates — three who are related to Beverly Police Department officers and a fourth who listed eight members of the department that he knew personally, most for more than a decade, the commission said. All four were ranked below Menard on the civil service certification.

Menard filed another appeal and the commission held a hearing on Oct. 13, 2017. LeLacheur told the commission that he preferred candidates with law enforcement experience. But the commission said three of the four candidates he selected had only recently graduated from college and had limited experience. LeLacheur said he considered two of the candidates' brief internships with the Beverly Police Department as law enforcement experience.

Overlooked experience

At the same time, LeLacheur appeared to ignore Menard's experience, according to the commission. In a letter to Menard explaining why he wasn't selected, LeLacheur "incorrectly stated" that Menard had no law enforcement experience, the commission said.

Menard has been a Cambridge firefighter since 2007. He is a certified paramedic, an EMT instructor, a rescue diver, boat operator for a fire department marine unit, hazmat technician, medic for the Cambridge Police Department SWAT team, and is licensed to carry a gun, according to the commission's decision.

He has also testified in court in connection with his work, trained with the environmental police, administers Narcan to people who have overdosed, and has taught others how to use Narcan. Menard had "very positive references" in his application for the Beverly police position, including one from a sergeant in the Cambridge Police Department bomb squad.

Menard had not completed the reserve police academy at the time, but had received training with the state police and Cambridge Police Department. A background check showed that he was charged with being a minor in possession of alcohol more than 20 years ago, and had no incidents on his adult driver's record for approximately 20 years.

One of the candidates hired by LeLacheur in the second round of hiring had a driving history that included multiple notices of license suspension and payment defaults in connection with speeding and lane violations, according to the commission. In 2012, the candidate was charged with refusing a breathalyzer test in another state and lost his license, which was reinstated in 2013. In September of 2014, he was charged with "operating after," a charge that was dismissed after he paid fines.

Another candidate who was hired was involved in a fight in high school around 2010, the commission said. The victim required two surgeries, and his parents submitted a letter "strongly opposing" the candidate's bid for the position of reserve police officer.

At the hearing, LeLacheur told the commission that his decision not to appoint Menard was based on a "personal feeling."

"(A) hiring process is flawed when, in addition to these errors, an appointing authority bypasses a candidate based on a personal feeling," the commission wrote.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.