Officer fired for alleged Internet abuse

by Jackie Tempera / Beacon Staff • March 22, 2012

Weeks after college administrators fired Emerson College Police Department Chief George Noonan, a seven-year employee of the college, another officer, Edward Villard, was pink-slipped for allegedly visiting inappropriate websites, Villard said.

Now, Villard said Noonan’s firing — which students and faculty learned of Dec. 14 in a mass email — was prompted by what he described as Noonan’s delay referring Villard to the Human Resources department following an investigation into his alleged Internet misuse.

On Nov. 23, the day before the college’s Thanksgiving break, an officer found a window with Netflix and an online dating website open on a computer Villard had used last, said Noonan in a phone interview.

Villard said on that day he used the computer and didn’t log off. He said he believed the officers who investigated the allegations against him saw an offensive website.

He said a window may have come from a pop-up ad on a dating website he was using. Villard said he encountered problems with frequent pop-ups in the past.

“I erase them as they come,” said Villard in a phone interview. “But sometimes they are so slick and make it seem like it is your friend contacting you. Then if you click on it, it is something you don’t want to see.”

Andrew Tiedemann, the college’s vice president of communications and marketing, said officers are permitted to use the Emerson computers while on duty.

“Emerson employees are allowed use the Internet and college computers for incidental personal use but are expected to devote the majority of their time while on campus to fulfilling their position’s responsibilities,” Tiedemann said
in an email.

According to Noonan, who wasn’t on campus at the time the alleged incident occurred, current Interim Chief Scott Bornstein initiated the investigation. Bornstein was promoted to the position after Noonan’s dismissal. 

“By the time I arrived, Bornstein was already well within the investigation,” said Noonan. “He was on top of the issue, he took the steps he should. He called I.T. and checked the computer history.”

When investigating alleged misconduct, the police department is required to speak to all parties involved and file paperwork to the college’s human resources department as quickly as possible. 

Tiedemann said he does not know of a policy that specifies exactly how long officers have to file the reports.

Noonan said Bornstein kept him abreast of the investigation, which was completed that evening and sent to human resources five days later. Noonan said he waited to send the report because the college was closed from Thursday to Monday for Thanksgiving recess.

Bornstein recommended Villard, who had worked with the college for two years, be given a written warning, said Noonan.

Bornstein declined to comment on the personnel issues. 

Noonan has declined to comment on the circumstances of his own termination.

According to Villard, college administrators felt Noonan did not notify the human resources department about the investigation quickly enough and as a result was let go.

“Next thing I know, Noonan is fired; and next thing you know, I’m fired,” said Villard. “Something is definitely rotten in Denmark. I’m not sure what is going on.”

During a meeting between Villard, Bornstein, and a human resources department representative Jan. 6, Villard was fired, he said.

Human resources representatives declined to comment on both the investigation and termination.

Tiedemann said employees are dismissed from the college after failing to improve on poor annual evaluations or for any misconduct on the job.

“They will hear from a manager or human resources about why their employment needs to end. Every individual receives a follow-up in writing,” Tiedemann said in a phone interview.

However, Villard said he never received proof or a clear explanation of his termination.  

“The improper behavior was based on cookies on the computer. I’ve never seen the complaints filed against me and I’ve never seen any of the evidence,” said Villard.

He said he is consulting with attorneys and hopes to take Emerson College to court. Noonan said he is also considering a lawsuit.