By Katina Caraganis
SHIRLEY -- An attorney for the town's insurer questioned whether the Board of Selectmen's indefinite barring of a local official from town-owned buildings in 2011 was "legally viable," according to a Sentinel & Enterprise review of emails and memos related to the case.
The Sentinel & Enterprise requested all documents and correspondence from selectmen and the police chief regarding the incident in which resident Robert Schuler, in his frustration with the budget process in 2011, said during a Finance Committee meeting that he was going to take out his guns and "start shooting or something."
The meeting was televised, and Schuler made a similar comment during a nontelevised Sewer Commission meeting.
Shortly after the meetings in May 2011, the Board of Selectmen issued a no-trespass order against Schuler.
Schuler eventually enlisted the help of the American Civil Liberties Union's Boston office, which filed suit against the town on Schuler's behalf, saying the order violated his civil rights.
In a June 18 email, Adam Simms, an attorney representing the town's insurance company, questioned whether it was "legally viable" to continue the no-trespass order against Schuler. The order was lifted the following week.
Simms was not available for comment, but the town's attorney, Gary Brackett, said it was his understanding that Simms did not mean he questioned whether the order was legal but rather if it was worth continuing for an indefinite period of time.
"I think the question of interest was the order did not have an end date. We felt it was an order with conditions," he said, while noting the circumstances in this case are something he has never seen before.
"I've been a public attorney for more than 30 years, and I don't remember any case like this before," he said. "The Board of Selectmen is responsible for the protection of public employees and citizens of the town. As soon as he would have satisfied those conditions, it would have been completed and it could have been resolved in a constructive matter."
Those conditions said the order would stay in place unless Schuler was willing to step down from both of his positions or undergo anger-management classes with a licensed mental-health counselor, something he refused to do.
Schuler did not step down, and he continued to participate in his meetings remotely. In an email from then-Chief Administrative Officer Dave Berry, Schuler was using the geographical distance clause in the state's remote-participation statute.
Berry said he did not believe that was possible because Schuler lived in town and could attend meetings if he met one of the two conditions the selectmen set out. He told selectmen they could challenge Schuler's attendance with an Open Meeting Law complaint, but no complaint was filed.
The board was also informed a motion for independent medical exam could be filed in court that would require Schuler to undergo a mental-health evaluation, but that was never filed.
In a memo dated May 25, 2011, from Police Chief Gregory Massak to selectmen, Massak said he did not feel comfortable telling the board how long the order should remain in effect, saying it was his belief that if something happened after the order was lifted, the board could be held liable.
"In my professional opinion, Mr. Schuler should resign from his positions with the Finance Committee and Sewer Commission effective immediately, or be removed by whatever means appropriate," he wrote. "Anyone acting as a town official or committee member should be held to a higher standard than the average citizens."
He said he believed that an individual who makes "shocking and alarming" statements like the one Schuler made instill fear in the members of community and town officials and they should not be allowed to serve on a board or committee.
"Allowing such an individual to remain on town committees would be negligent on the part of town officials and could undermine the effectiveness of these committees as well as our town management," he said.
When selectmen issued the no-trespass order, Schuler voluntarily surrendered his firearms and his license to carry to police. Later in 2011, he began the process of renewing his license, which is good for six years.
Local attorney Ernie Hyde, who had been working on Schuler's behalf before the ACLU was involved, contacted Massak about renewing the license in September 2011, and Massak said he began the renewal process by sending requests to state police and the state Department of Mental Health, which are required entities in the process.
After that email exchange, Massak said Friday, he received no other correspondence from anyone regarding Schuler's license to carry, and it is his understanding that the license to carry was never renewed.
Because nobody in his household had the proper licenses to have the guns on the premises, Massak said, the guns could not be returned to him. Massak said he didn't know if the guns were given back to Schuler and sold before the license expired or sold directly from the station.
In an email between Simms and selectmen dated June 4, Simms said he needed to meet with the board immediately to submit an answer to Schuler's complaint filed by the ACLU on behalf of Schuler, which asked the order to be lifted.
Brackett said Simms handled much of the litigation, and he believed a response had been filed, but none was included in the packet of information released to the Sentinel & Enterprise.
Selectman Chairwoman Kendra Dumont declined to comment on the contents of the documents, saying instead she's glad the issue is resolved and there is no point in dwelling on it.
Selectman Bob Prescott was not on the board when the initial no-trespass order was issued but was one of the three voting members when the order was lifted in June.
The board did authorize its attorney, Brackett, to draft a statement on its behalf once it was finalized.
Because of current events at the time, including the January 2011 Tuscon, Ariz., shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords that resulted in six deaths and 13 wounded, it was imperative the step was taken, Brackett wrote in the statement.
"The selectmen felt compelled to take appropriate action to insure [sic] the safety of Shirley residents and employees in response to Schuler's comments," Brackett wrote.
In Brackett's statement, he said that was the same standard required under Massachusetts General Law Chapter 140 for anyone who has a license to carry or possess firearms revoked.
"While Schuler offered an apology for his comments, he was not willing to secure the medical opinion required by the selectmen," Brackett wrote. "It is important to point out that Schuler never appealed the revocation of his firearms identification card."
Schuler maintained throughout the process he willingly surrendered all of his firearms and license during the ordeal. It is unclear whether they have been returned to him.
"In consideration of the fact that the original trespass order had resulted in more than two years of peaceful participation by Schuler in his volunteer duties, the selectmen upon recommendation of this office and insurance defense counsel, agreed to rescind the notice of trespass," Brackett wrote in his statement.
At the same time, he wrote, the civil action was dismissed with a general mutual release and settlement agreement, which involved a payment of $35,000 in legal fees to the ACLU.
The balance of the settlement account was paid by the town's insurance carrier.
"It's the issue that won't go away. Hopefully this is the last we talk about it," Brackett said.
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