BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – In a special meeting Monday, Feb. 3, the Bellows Falls Village Trustees discovered that Fire Chief Shaun McGinnis wanted to step down as acting police chief and that an investigation of the Bellows Falls Police Department had been ongoing by the Vermont State Police since August 2019.
Municipal Manager Wendy Harrison explained that coincidentally two separate occurrences happened that day; McGinnis expressed he was no longer interested in being acting police chief and Officer Paulette was on a non-disciplinary suspension.
Resident Paul Ries, who was concerned with the leave of Officer Josh Paulette, made public comment that Paulette was approachable and well-liked in the village. He said he would recommend him as police chief.
Two other residents in attendance voiced disappointment in the police department.
James VanEtten, a resident of North Walpole, was present at the meeting to represent a resident of Bellows Falls who he explained “fears for his life.” VanEtten warned the board against promoting Mario Checchi to chief and explained that the person he represented went to the Vermont State Police because BFPD would not help and the VSP directed him back to Bellows Falls. VanEtten explained, “Checchi refused to help. He showed a dereliction of duty.”
He said, “I would question the leadership of any officer who would not [do his duty] because he was intimidated.”
Harrison said she had to appoint the next person for interim chief but that she would like McGinnis to continue. Stefan Golec asked McGinnis, “Would you consider sticking around?” until a police chief was hired. McGinnis replied, “Absolutely not.”
Village President Deborah Wright asked if he would remain as Fire Chief and McGinnis replied that he would.
Harrison supported appointing Sargeant Bemis as acting police chief. “He is one of two supervisors with the most seniority.”
Gary Lique asked if issues would be addressed and Bemis stated, “There are several issues we need to address, and we will address all of them.”
Harrison explained that the challenges were not new, having “developed over years.” She later shared, “I may have told you previously, but there is an active investigation by the Vermont State Police on the Bellows Falls Police Department.”
James McAuliffe immediately said, “I was not aware of that” and Jonathan Wright agreed that “none of us were.”
At the end of the meeting, the Village Trustees thanked McGinnis for his service and wished Bemis good luck.
On Monday, Feb. 10, the Attorney General’s office concluded a review of the allegation against Bellows Falls Police Detective Mario Checchi. Attorney General T.J. Donovan announced that his office reviewed all the materials provided by the Vermont State Police and found no credible evidence to support the allegation of misconduct.