Montville officer's job on the line after year-plus recovery

Montville — A town police officer's job is on the line after nearly 14 months of recovery from injuries sustained during a 2017 attack that led to a justified fatal shooting.

Mayor Ron McDaniel sent Officer Robin Salvatore a letter last week saying he was "proposing to separate you from employment" because she had been unable to return to work "even after more than 13 months of leave to allow you to recover."

But union representatives on Wednesday said they'll fight for Salvatore to remain on the payroll. They argue the injuries she sustained when bludgeoned with her Taser by Val Thomas, 53 — the man she shot and killed at the Chesterfield Lodge on Jan. 29, 2017 — have led to ongoing medical issues preventing her from working.

"She is recovering from serious injuries sustained in the line of duty," union spokesman Larry Dorman said in an interview. "It's fair to say we were disappointed by the letter. But we're also hopeful at the same time. We'll do whatever we can to protect Robin's rights."

Dorman declined to discuss Salvatore's injuries in detail but said doctors have not determined any time frame for clearing her to work.

In a statement, Salvatore said she plans to return to her position.

"I've dedicated my career to community policing and want to get back to the Montville Police Department as soon as I'm fully recovered," said Salvatore, a 28-year veteran of the department.

She exhausted leave protection under the Family and Medical Leave Act in April 2017, according to McDaniel's letter. Dorman said Salvatore has received workers' compensation since then.

"The town has continued to reasonably accommodate your need for additional leave, in hopes that your need for leave to recover from your injuries would be reasonable in duration and that you would be medically cleared to return to work," McDaniel wrote.

But in January, the town received a letter from Salvatore's medical provider stating she remained unable to work, the mayor wrote.

McDaniel declined to discuss the personnel matter on Wednesday.

In his letter, the mayor directed Salvatore to meet with him next week to discuss the proposed separation, noting she was welcome to attend with a union representative. The mayor asked Salvatore to "come prepared to present any and all information you would like me to consider in making my decision."

On Monday, Windham Judicial District State's Attorney Anne Mahoney cleared Salvatore of wrongdoing in the Jan. 29, 2017, incident. Salvatore and Officer Gregg Jacobson had responded to the Route 85 hotel and asked Thomas to either pay for his room or leave. From interviews and video footage, Mahoney determined Thomas initially turned to his room, but doubled back and nabbed Salvatore's Taser.

Thomas repeatedly struck Salvatore in the head, video footage from the lodge showed. Only after several strikes did she fire her duty pistol once, hitting Thomas in the abdomen. Thomas later died and Salvatore, who was bleeding from the head, was treated at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital and released.

"Since Mr. Thomas repeatedly struck her in the head with a blunt object that could have caused death or serious physical injury and stated that he intended to kill her, Officer Salvatore was justified in the use of deadly physical force," Mahoney's review said.

Montville police Officer Karen Moorehead, currently the bargaining unit president, urged town officials to retain Salvatore.

"Officer Salvatore acted heroically while doing the job the town asked her to do," Moorehead said in a statement. "I would hope the town is willing to stand by an officer who has proven her commitment to serving and protecting the people."

b.kail@theday.com

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