After a report in the Boston Globe about his then-anonymous lawsuit, local organizations — including Direct Action for Rights and Equality, Black Lives Matter RI PAC and the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island — objected to him continuing. under the name “John Biche.”
Their objection is now moot after Lawton’s attorney filed legal documents Wednesday identifying him as the plaintiff.
In a statement, his lawyer, Carly Beauvais Iafrate, noted that police officers are entitled to a confidential disciplinary hearing under the Police Bill of Rights – often abbreviated as LEOBOR – unless a hearing board decides. that the policeman is not innocent.
“In this case, it seemed unfair to me that by denying the officer the right to a hearing, the state police could effectively eliminate the right to privacy, because denying the hearing does not give the the officer has no choice but to seek legal relief and potentially exposes the unproven allegations or circumstances,” Iafrate said in an email. “It could cause the very harm the law seeks to avoid.”
But once local groups stepped in, it became clear that pleading the issue of anonymity would delay a decision on the case itself, Iafrate said. Lawton has been out of work since January.
“If we were to argue the pseudonym, it would have taken additional time and resources and delayed resolving the most critical issue (whether or not it gets a hearing),” Iafrate said. “Whether the LEOBOR Act provides a right of privacy that would permit the use of a pseudonym will have to be left for another day, for another matter.”
Iafrate said she was still unable to speak in detail about the merits of the case herself.
Superior Court Judge Alice B. Gibney heard arguments on the case in April. State police say he was properly fired and should not get his job back.
Lawton was an approximately 24-year veteran of the force. According to state payroll records, he was a lieutenant with an annual salary of $156,239 in the last fiscal year.
The events leading directly to his eventual dismissal began in October 2021, when a state police major questioned him about rumors that the soldier was dating a subordinate. Lawton admitted he was.
Lawton’s legal papers said the rules do not prohibit consensual romantic relationships between co-workers and that he does not supervise it. But state police said they moved his shift to make sure he never did. Under state police policies, he was supposed to inform his superiors of the relationship.
State Police leadership and the trooper agreed to a two-day suspension for failing to inform superiors of the romantic relationship. Under the deal, the soldier would be on probation for three months, when he waives his rights under the police bill of rights – including a hearing that could review or even dismiss his sentence if he had again trouble. The probationary period would begin, according to his court documents, after he served his two-day suspension and returned to work.
Weeks later, on Dec. 25, 2021, Lawton failed to report for work, state police said. He was supposed to oversee patrol operations for the entire state that day. When his supervisor and another member of the division went to see him, they found him “very drunk”, unable to speak coherently or do anything but sit in a chair, police said. ‘State. The soldier was in his full uniform, with a gun in his duty belt. It turned out to be unloaded.
“Your dereliction of duty and misconduct endangered the soldiers under your command, reflected poor leadership, terrible judgment and could have harmed the citizens of this state,” Col. James Manni wrote in the letter ending Lawton. .
Lawton’s lawsuit, meanwhile, said his probation had yet to begin because he had not served the two-day unpaid suspension and had returned to work at the time of the Christmas Day events. . His lawsuit also alleges that he did not knowingly waive his rights under the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights and challenged the process followed by the state police to discipline him.