Springfield police chief sacked by town

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. (WCAX) The Springfield police chief has been forced out without explanation. An acting chief has been hired, but town officials are not saying why the former chief was fired.

Douglas Johnston/File

Our Adam Sullivan went to Springfield where the news was surprising and concerning to some residents.

Laurie Cobb has lived in Springfield for more than a decade. She found out the town's police chief was fired while riding the bus Wednesday morning.

"I wasn't sure it was possible to fire anybody like that of that caliber," Cobb said.

Doug Johnston was the police chief in Springfield for 20 years before he was abruptly fired Monday. He had been in the department for four decades, moving his way up the ranks.

"These things are never easy," said Kristi Morris, the chair of the Springfield Select Board.

Town officials say it is a sensitive personnel matter that they are not discussing publicly. We do not know if the termination resulted from a long-term evaluation or a recent incident.

We do know that town officials say there are no current or future criminal cases connected to the former chief that could be thrown out as a result of his firing.

"We are looking to progress the town and we are hoping that will happen under the new leadership," Morris said.

Lt. Mark Fountain, a 29-year veteran of the department, was named acting chief.

"Our police department will be responsive to their needs and make sure services are delivered to them," Fountain said.

Fountain also declined to comment on the termination of his former boss. He said he is focused on police work, which includes filling vacancies currently on the force.

"The town should be very proud of its workforce. We have very competent and dedicated employees," Fountain said.

But the sudden change in the department is unsettling for those who rely on the police to keep them safe.

"I'm concerned about the whole business, yes, now," Cobb said.

Town officials say they will be moving forward on a plan to hire a permanent chief. However, they say it is premature to discuss at this time.

WCAX News also spoke with former chief Johnston's attorney, Pietro Lynn.

Lynn says Johnston was wrongfully terminated and that they plan to hold the town financially accountable.

"The chief is understandably devastated by this. He had 40 years of commitment to the people of Springfield, the community understood his level of commitment and for him to be unceremoniously terminated for no good reason is a very difficult thing for him to cope with," Lynn said. "The chief is not clear as to why he was terminated. We believe he was terminated wholly, separate and apart from his job performance."

Lynn would not put a dollar amount on what they will seek for damages.

"We will look to make the chief whole, and that means any emotional harm or financial harm that he suffers will be recoverable against the town," Lynn said.

He says they plan to file suit in state or federal court within 30 days.