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After ousting, Croydon police chief walks home in boots, briefs

  • Former Croydon Police Chief Richard Lee talks with a reporter at his home in Newport, N.H., on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. The selectboard eliminated the town's police department. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Croydon selectboard chair Russell Edwards leaves the town offices on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020 in Croydon, N.H. The selectboard has eliminated the town's police department. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Croydon, N.H. police cruiser sits in front of the town offices on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020 in Croydon. The Croydon selectboard has eliminated the town's police department. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/19/2020 5:36:09 PM
Modified: 2/19/2020 10:00:18 PM

CROYDON — The town police chief stripped down to his briefs and boots and left the Croydon town offices — and his job — after he was ousted by the Selectboard on Tuesday night.

The three-member board voted unanimously to abolish the police department, which they have “issues with” and rely instead on coverage from the New Hampshire State Police, according to meeting minutes.

Richard Lee, who has worked part time as the sole member of the department for nearly 20 years and attended the regularly scheduled board meeting as he usually does, said he was caught off guard by the vote. He’s had tensions with the Selectboard in the past, especially following a proposal last year to dissolve the department, which was defeated by voters in May.

But this time, Lee said, there was no indication that the board would vote on whether to abolish the department.

A meeting agenda listed “police department” under the “new business” section, but did not elaborate.

“What can I do?” Lee said in an interview at his home on Wednesday, recalling his thoughts as the vote went through. “I’m done.”

Lee said Selectboard Chairman Russell Edwards told him to turn over all police items including his badges, the keys to his police cruiser and his uniform “immediately.”

Following the meeting, Lee said he took off his uniform and — wearing only briefs, a T-shirt, a gray baseball cap and a shirt — started the 7-mile walk home to Newport on Tuesday evening.

Lee said that as he was undressing, Edwards told him to turn in his uniform on a later day, but he declined.

“This is what they demanded and this is what I’m doing,” he said in the interview. Lee walked a little less than a mile in 26-degree temperatures until his wife picked him up, he said.

Edwards released a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying the dissolution of the department “was an action based upon value for the cost of the department.”

He also referenced nine “expectations” he had for the police department, which included instructions on where to park, and how and when to record his hours worked.

The expectations had been introduced at the meeting the previous night, but discussion was tabled ahead of the vote to abolish the department.

In a brief interview at the town offices Wednesday, Edwards noted that New Hampshire State Police already cover incidents in the town 81% of the time.

Messages to the two other Selectboard members, Ian Underwood and Joe Marko, were not returned Wednesday.

Underwood moved to Croydon in 2007 as part of the libertarian Free State Project.

Lee said he’s still unsure whether he’s been fired or if he’s merely “out of work.”

He said he is meeting with a lawyer to figure out whether the decision was legal, and if he has grounds to sue.

The Selectboard and Lee, who said he made about $30,500 a year as chief, have had similar issues in recent years.

Two of the town’s three Selectboard members and the board’s administrative assistant quit in 2019 amid controversy over whether to abolish Lee’s job and contract with Newport for police coverage.

In 2018, voters defeated a proposal from Lee to increase his salary by 43% and instead voters chose to pass a 2% cost-of-living raise.

Lee, who planned to retire in a year and a half, said he would miss the people of Croydon. He said he’s formed a close connection with people in the town, often stopping by to visit, eat lunch with them, or check in on some of the elderly residents who live alone.

But it’s not all community-building; Lee said he often has a heavy workload too, adding that in recent weeks he was working full-time hours to handle assault, criminal mischief and criminal trespassing cases.

“If there’s something I was doing wrong, tell me,” Lee said, adding that he still doesn’t know why his position was terminated. “I can’t get anybody to answer the question.”

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.




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