Controversy Dogs Baldwin Police Chief; Former Boss Now Suing Turcotte Once Wrote Him a Glowing Recommendation

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Schoettler, The Times-Union

As his first week in office ended Friday, all Baldwin Police Chief Guy Turcotte could hope for was a new beginning.

He said he waits for the day to no longer hear former chief Harvey Branch's name at every turn. He waits for a time when heading to court means putting away a bad guy, not fighting a lawsuit in a small-town squabble.

But Turcotte will find those moments hard to come by for a while. Branch has filed two lawsuits to overturn Turcotte's election. Turcotte is pushing his own lawsuit, which he filed against the Flagler Beach police for revealing disciplinary actions against him.

Despite the controversies, Turcotte said he plans to keep battling to clear his name and serve those who elected him last month by seven votes.

"I believe good always outlasts evil," said Turcotte, 37, sworn in as chief of the west Duval County town Tuesday. "I have tenacity. I believe in myself."

Branch has been spitting fire for weeks at Turcotte, claiming Turcotte's election is invalid because he didn't meet residency or experience requirements. Branch has described Turcotte as unprofessional and unethical, and he was joined in his departure by three full-time officers, who resigned Tuesday.

There's also the matter of Turcotte's work history at other police departments. His personnel files are peppered with letters of praise as well as listings of disciplinary problems that led one agency to dismiss him while on probation and another to seek his termination twice.

Records obtained by the Times-Union on Friday show that just last summer Branch had nothing but praise for Turcotte, a former corporal in Baldwin. After Turcotte's decision to resign in July, Branch wrote a glowing letter "highly" recommending him to any position he applied for.

"His team spirit and self-initiative [in a drug task force] is, without a doubt, exemplary," Branch wrote. The former chief praised Turcotte's "initiative, resourcefulness and untiring efforts" as an investigator.

Other officers who quit Tuesday also wrote letters six months earlier praising him as an "outstanding officer and individual" and an "asset to any law enforcement agency."

Turcotte said he resigned from the force after about 16 months because he was unhappy with how the department was being managed. Despite the letter of praise, Branch now says he wanted Turcotte gone because he was disruptive and didn't do his job properly.

"He had a lot of problems here messing with people in town, following people, using abusive language," Branch said. "I said that I'm not going to listen to that anymore."

Turcotte pointed out that there were no disciplinary records in his personnel file and said he treated the town's residents with respect. …