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Former Bristol police chief faces felony charges

June 27, 2018
BRISTOL — A Grafton County Superior Court Grand Jury on June 15 handed up the three felony indictments against former Bristol Police Chief Michael Lewis, charging him with misappropriating grant funds over a period of several years. He faces arraignment on July 16.

He also faces alternate misdemeanor charges of sexual and simple assault relating to the alleged groping of a woman on Aug. 31, 2017.

Bristol selectmen placed Lewis on paid administrative leave on Sept. 5, 2017, and he resigned a month later, on Oct. 4.

The indictments alleged that Lewis, of 233 North Ashland Rd., Ashland, collected overtime pay for hours he did not work. The first count says he falsely claimed overtime between July and December 2012, with similar allegations for timesheets between January 2013 and December 2014, and between January 2016 and December 2017, each amounting to more than $1,500.

An indictment is not a finding of guilt, but an independent jury's decision, after hearing from police, that sufficient evidence exists to warrant a court trial.

Lewis did not return a call seeking comment on the indictments, each of which is a Class A felony punishable by a maximum of 15 years in prison.

The assault charges allege that, while serving as police chief, Lewis had approached a woman from behind and placed his hands on her buttocks. Convictions on the misdemeanor charges could carry as much as a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Lewis joined the Bristol Police Department in 2004, later serving as interim chief after the resignation of John Clark in August 2010. Lewis was officially appointed police chief in 2011.

In a statement following his indictment, the Bristol Board of Selectmen said the town discovered the alleged misuse of New Hampshire Highway Safety Agency Police Detail grants while reviewing internal personnel practices after Lewis' resignation last October. After reviewing the grant paperwork and related files, the town contacted the New Hampshire Attorney General and the Grafton County Attorney's Office to ask for an investigation into Lewis' use of the grant money.

The Grafton County Attorney's Office had confirmed in December that it was conducting an investigation into allegations against the former police chief, but provided no additional information at that time.

According to Bristol Town Administrator Nik Coates, Lewis earned $111,746 in 2017. The chief's contract included a provision for receiving his regular pay for 90 days beyond his resignation date. That, along with vacation and bonus time, brought his regular earnings to $101,739.41. Lewis also had claimed $8,252,53 in overtime for grant-funded details such as DWI checkpoints and he received an additional $2,280 for special details and an employee stipend.

The selectmen said that, after discovering the alleged misuse of funds, they reviewed subsequent grant use, from October to the present, and uncovered no misuse of the money.

"The Select Board must operate with a certain level of trust with all department heads that they will act in the best interests of the Town," they wrote. "By state law, police chiefs are afforded a certain level of autonomy … however, when the Select Board was made aware of these concerns, it took action swiftly and decisively. While the result cannot be reversed the system of checks and balances worked: Information was gathered and acted on."

The statement continued, "The Personnel Policy has been updated and a staff training with the Select Board was held. The Select Board has also met with Police Department staff to assure the staff that it takes all complaints and concerns seriously and will, with the Town Administrator and Human Resources, act accordingly. An all-employee antiharassment training was also held in February and staff has been reminded that they and the Select Board all share in the responsibility in ensuring that a safe working environment is maintained."

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Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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