Probe of cop’s inheritance will follow evidence, says commission (NH)

PORTSMOUTH — About 20 residents attended a Wednesday morning hearing to urge the Police Commission to authorize expansion of an independent probe into a police officer’s disputed $2.7 million inheritance.

Two hours later, the commission announced it would reiterate its original instruction that the probe be as encompassing as needed.

The probe is being conducted by a three-person panel, supplemented by investigations by the Tideview Group of Maine. It is separate but related to a probate court case involving a last will and trust by the late Geraldine Webber to police Sgt. Aaron Goodwin. The officer denies allegations by multiple parties in probate court that claim he exerted undue influence over Webber, while she had dementia, to inherit her wealth.

The independent panel was tasked to establish a timeline of facts, to determine whether or not Goodwin violated police policies and what level of supervision he received with regard to his relationship with Webber. The City Council later authorized Mayor Bob Lister and Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine to meet with the commission on Wednesday in an effort to broaden the charge given to the investigatory panel.

During a public comment session, resident Joe Onosko “strongly encouraged” the commission to authorize expansion of the probe to “learn how did we get here and where do we go.” He called the panel’s current charge “inadequate” and said the “only way” to get all the answers is with a “robust inquiry.”

His wife, Jane Zill, told the commission she’d sent a list of 57 questions to retired Judge Stephen Roberts and received a reply saying some of her questions were outside the scope of the panel’s charge. Zill said the reply suggests confusion between the commission and the panel about what is expected.

Resident David Witham said he thinks the independent probe needs to be “more thorough,” adding the original charge “feels too narrow for me.”

Resident Kathleen Logan called for an investigation into the state office of elder affairs to learn what role it played after receiving documented complaints about Goodwin’s relationship with Webber.

Commissioner Brenna Cavanaugh cautioned that, “We all want this done yesterday, but we’ve got to have respect for the process.” She said she’s been careful to have no contact with members of the investigating panel to ensure the probe remains “sterile.” She said all the commissioners have been “hyper vigilant” to avoid contact with panel members and that if they start making suggestions about how the investigation should be conducted, it could compromise the process.

Commissioner Jerry Howe said he and his fellow commissioners thought they “gave wide berth” to the investigatory panel and that the instructions to the panel authorized the investigation to go where it leads. Commissioner John Golumb agreed saying the panel was instructed to “follow the facts wherever they lead.”

After that discussion, the commission went into a private meeting with Lister, Splaine, City Attorney Robert Sullivan, Police Chief Stephen DuBois and Deputy Chief Corey MacDonald. When the commission reconvened, Golumb announced that the scope of the investigation was created “to encompass a broad latitude for the investigatory team to go wherever the facts and evidence may lead them.”

To ensure there is no miscommunication, he said he’ll inform retired Judge Steven Roberts, who chairs the investigatory panel, that the commission wants the panel to study the issues as charged, but not be limited by those items.

The announcement was met by applause and thanks from attending residents, before Lister said their attendance “shows that this is a community where we care for each other.”

Splaine said the clarification will put everyone “on the proverbial same page.”


Probe of cop’s inheritance will follow evidence, says commission
Eizabeth Dinan
October 29, 2014