BLACKSTONE — Lt. Gregory Gilmore will remain Blackstone’s acting police chief through June 30, 2020.
At a meeting last week, the Blackstone selectmen unanimously voted to approve Town Administrator Daniel Keyes’ re-appointment of Gilmore for one year – a move that has raised even more questions about the future of Police Chief Ross A. Atstupenas, who has been on paid administrative leave since April.
Gilmore, the Police Department’s second in command, was appointed acting police chief on April 16 after Keyes announced he was placing Atstupenas on paid administrative leave pending what he said was an investigation of the Police Department. The vote to place Atstupenas on leave was taken two weeks after the selectmen unanimously voted at a meeting on April 2 to conduct the investigation of the department. The investigation is being conducted by a retired Massachusetts state trooper.
Keyes’ disciplinary action against Atstupenas – the town’s police chief for the past 17 years – came after he found out that Atstupenas was conducting his own independent internal investigation of the department and specific officers without authorization from the town administrator or the selectmen.
When Keyes confronted Atstupenas about that unauthorized investigation, the chief reportedly became insubordinate, which prompted Keyes to place him on administrative leave, a move that was supported by the selectmen on April 16.
But that action has riled some residents, who are rallying behind the chief. Over the past two months, blue signs saying “We Support Our Police Chief” have been appearing on lawns and fences throughout town and public support for the chief, who lives in town with his family, appears to be growing.
Atstupenas, who was appointed to the chief’s position in 2000 succeeding longtime former Police Chief Lucien Lizotte, has not spoken publicly about the matter.
Town officials have not commented publicly on the reasons for the investigation, and remained tight-lipped last Tuesday when resident J. Peter Martineau asked the board about the status of the investigation.
“We can’t really comment, but the investigation is ongoing,” the board’s attorney, Patrick Costello, responded.
In response to Martineau’s inquiry, board Chairman Daniel Keefe clarified that the investigation is not focused on the chief, but the entire Police Department.
A source close to the matter said the investigation is based on several complaints and a series of longstanding problems between the chief and the rank and file officers. On July 25, 2018, the Blackstone Police Union passed a vote of no confidence in Atstupenas’ leadership.
Last month, an overflow crowd of concerned and angry residents packed the selectmen’s meeting to protest Keyes’ decision to place Atstupenas on leave. Dozens of residents filled the board’s meeting room, while even more stood in the hallway at the Municipal Center as they took turns at the podium to chastise the board for its treatment of Atstupenas, a member of the Blackstone Police department for the past 40 years, 19 as chief.
David Laudon, a Blackstone police patrolman and president of the police union, also took to the podium and reminded residents of the no confidence vote taken by the union in 2018.
“I stand before all of you tonight to affirm that we, the members of the Blackstone Police Patrolmen’s Union, still stand strongly by that vote of no confidence,” he said.
Atstupenas has been a member of the Blackstone Police Department for 40 years, 19 as chief. A 1976 graduate of Woonsocket High School, he studied at Community College of Rhode Island and then went to work as a patrolman for the Blackstone Police Department in 1979. He was appointed to the chief’s position in 2000, succeeding longtime former Police Chief Lucien Lizotte.
In 2017, Atstupenas was sworn in as president of the New England Association of Chiefs of Police. He had previously served in 2008 as the president of the Central Massachusetts Chiefs of Police.
Follow Joseph Fitzgerald on Twitter @jofitz7