The town of Tisbury confirmed Friday that it has settled a federal lawsuit with former police Lieut. Eerik Meisner for $400,000.
Former Lieutenant Meisner served on the Tisbury force for approximately six years before his departure in January 2019. When he left, he had been demoted from his position of lieutenant to acting sergeant.
He sued the town in federal court in August 2019, alleging among other things breach of contract, civil rights violations and wrongful termination by police chief Mark Saloio.
Along with the federal lawsuit, Mr. Meisner had filed a Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) complaint against the town and Chief Saloio, alleging retaliatory behavior by the town.
The town met in executive session at 4:30 p.m. Thursday evening to discuss collective bargaining strategy and pending litigation regarding the Meisner case.
According to the settlement, which was executed by town administrator John Grande Friday and provided to the Gazette, the town has agreed to pay Mr. Meisner a lump sum settlement of $400,000. In exchange, Mr. Meisner has agreed to drop all pending legal claims against the town, while the town will furnish Mr. Meisner with a letter of reference for future employment.
Mr. Meisner has agreed to never seek future employment with the town.
The settlement payment is broken into two parts, according to the document. Mr. Meisner will be paid $50,000 for alleged loss of wages, while $350,000 will be paid to him “in compensation for other harms allegedly done by defendants to Meisner and attorney’s fees and costs,” the settlement agreement says.
In a statement posted on the town website at approximately 2 p.m. Friday afternoon under the letterhead of the town selectboard, the town specified that the $350,000 portion of the settlement will be paid by the town’s insurer. The insurer is Chubb Limited, according to Mr. Grande.
The statement also said that entering litigation would have been costly and that the town had sought settlement since shortly after the lawsuit was filed. The town engaged a private mediator who counseled that legal action could have lasted five years, according to the statement.
“With an eye towards resolving this matter amicably and taking the town of Tisbury’s best interests into consideration, the town authorized the town’s insurer to engage in settlement discussions with Lieut. Meisner’s representatives early on in the litigation,” the statement said. “While we believed strongly in the town’s defenses and believed the facts, as we understood them, to be favorable to the town, we concluded that settlement was the best course of action for the town and the police department.”
The town reiterated that the settlement did not constitute an admission of guilt and continued to strenuously deny any wrongdoing in the statement.
“The agreement expressly provides that the agreement is not to be construed as an admission of liability, and we firmly believe that to be the case,” the statement said. “We wish Mr. Meisner the best in his future endeavors. We will make no other comments about the litigation or Mr. Meisner and we consider this matter closed.”
In a statement issued later Friday, Mr. Meisner’s attorney Tim Burke called the amount of the settlement “significant,” and said it speaks for itself.
“Lieutenant Meisner was an outstanding officer and an asset to the town of Tisbury’s police department and to the community at large,” the statement said in part.
“Lieutenant Meisner believes very strongly in the statements made in his complaint, but he also accepts the conclusions reached by the mediator that settlement was in the best interests of Lieutenant Meisner and his family,” it also said.
Mr. Meisner joined the force in 2013 as a lieutenant, after a 20-year career in the Titusville, Fla. police department. In the fall of 2018, he was demoted from lieutenant to acting sergeant by Chief Saloio as part of a department restructuring, according to statements from town and department officials at the time. Mr. Saloio was hired as chief after the retirement of former chief Daniel Hanavan.
Mr. Meisner left the department in January 2019.
According to the 19-page federal complaint filed last year in United States District Court, Mr. Meisner claimed that he was wrongfully passed over for the police chief position in 2018 and subsequently demoted and then fired from the department without cause, alleging that the town retaliated against him for an investigation he conducted regarding the department’s treatment of a former female officer, Kindia Roman.
Ms. Roman has also filed an MCAD complaint against the department that remains ongoing.
The complaint detailed a series of allegations against the police department and Chief Saloio including the claim that Mr. Meisner was wrongfully forced out of his position as lieutenant, and was fired for retaliatory reasons.
The complaint sought damages in an amount to be decided in court, as well as attorney’s fees.
Reached by phone Friday, Chief Saloio declined comment, citing the town statement that no further comment would be made.