KENSINGTON -- A raucous crowd criticized elected town leaders Thursday night for their handling of a scandal involving an officer whose gun was stolen by a Reno prostitute -- just as, in an uncomfortable bit of timing, those leaders were to consider whether to give that officer and his colleagues a 16 percent raise over four years.
The council late Thursday delayed its vote on the contract, which was negotiated for the police union by the officer at the center of the Reno controversy, Sgt. Keith T. Barrow. That fact, police district Director Rachelle Sherris-Watt said, "may require us to start again" with negotiations because of potential conflicts of interest.
Barrow, 47, was under investigation for nearly eight months by Chief Greg Harman without being placed on administrative leave.
On May 23, a 25-year-old prostitute, Christina Mae Taylor, stole Barrow's gun, badge, two magazines of ammunition and his handcuffs. Reno police quickly arrested Taylor on grand larceny charges, but Barrow's pistol was gone.
The weapon was located the next morning when a man Taylor later called her "dude" got in an altercation with two people at a downtown Reno pawnshop and shot himself in the leg with it.
Harman decided last month that Barrow's discipline should be a suspension.
The chief, who said he is a dues-paying member of the union in order to be covered by the legal services it provides its members, said he aided the board in the contract negotiations as part of his dual job as district general manager but does not fall under the contract. "I don't vote" on union business, he said. "I did not negotiate this contract."
At Thursday's meeting, district President Len Walsh said Harman's handling of the Barrow investigation will be the subject of a special closed-door meeting at 8 p.m. Monday.
No members of the nine-person police union spoke on the matter. Barrow was not present.
"The police officers elect who negotiates" for them, Harman said. The union has already voted to accept the contract terms, he said. He did not say when that occurred.
In a brief interview with this newspaper, Harman addressed the Barrow controversy publicly for the first time.
"I believe I handled it properly. I believe the discipline administered was appropriate under the circumstances, and it is unfortunate that others don't feel that way."
Residents urged the board not to act on the contract, mixing their concerns about Barrow and Harman with worries about the deal's affordability. Others questioned Harman's dual position of both police chief and general manager.
Harman sat quietly as some called for his firing over the Barrow scandal. He admitted that four police officers, not three as officials previously stated, were with Barrow in Reno. He said that no district resources were used on the trip. The other four Kensington officers -- Eric Stegman, Christopher Turner, Juan Ramos and Doug Wilson -- were interviewed as part of the investigation.
"They were up there (in Reno) as a team socially," Harman said. "Two of them had their wives with them. They are allowed to carry weapons in Nevada."
Deep frustrations over the Reno incident were expressed while some residents defended Barrow and Harman, calling them fine police officers who care deeply about the town.
But others gave blunt criticism.
"I am angry," said resident Bill Stanton, 75, saying people had lost trust in the police.
Rory Douglass, a former PTA president, called Barrow a man of "low moral character and zero integrity" and expressed shock that Harman did not immediately suspend Barrow as he investigated the encounter between Barrow and the prostitute.
The comments came before town officials retreated behind closed doors to discuss the scandal involving Barrow that has rocked this hillside community since this newspaper broke the story Sunday.
By 7:30 p.m., more than 250 people had crammed into the meeting, filling all available seats and lining the walls.
One expert on police matters said Thursday that Harman made a serious error by leaving Barrow on duty.
"Whether or not an officer is considered a 'threat' is irrelevant in making the determination as to whether or not to place him or her on administrative leave pending an internal affairs investigation," said Tom Nolan, a retired Boston police lieutenant who now teaches criminal justice at Merrimack University.
"In a matter as serious as an officer losing or having his or her weapon stolen, that officer is ordinarily placed on administrative leave with pay pending a determination" how the weapon was lost and to evaluate the officer's "fitness to continue to serve as a police officer."
As public comments opened about 8 p.m. and dozens of people said they intended to address the board, speakers ripped into Harman and Barrow.
Micki Tal, a criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor, said Barrow's actions in Reno put his case work as a detective at risk.
"We have to make sure they are clean" of crimes of moral turpitude that could taint a court testimony, Tal said of police officers. "Things here are broken," she said, calling for Barrow to be fired "for the protection of our community."
In an interview Wednesday, Welsh said that because Barrow has been served with Harman's disciplinary decision, no further action could be taken against him.