Future Of Portsmouth Police Commission In Question After $2.7M Inheritance Controversy

Jul 1, 2015

Sgt. Aaron Goodwin, of the Portsmouth Police Department, is cross examined by attorney David Eby while testifying in the Geraldine Webber revocable living trust hearing on Wednesday at the 7th Circuit-Probate Division-Dover.
Credit Photo by Rich Beauchesne/Seacoastonline

Portsmouth Police Sgt. Aaron Goodwin was fired last week, after an independent report cited him for several ethics violations for accepting a disputed $2.7 million inheritance.

But the story doesn’t end there, as the controversy has raised questions about the future of the city's police commission.

A judge also has yet to rule on whether he can keep the money.

Elizabeth Dinan is a reporter for the Portsmouth Herald.

She’s been following the story and joined NHPR's Morning Edition to give us the latest.

What did the independent review of Goodwin’s acceptance of the inheritance conclude?

A three-person panel that was funded by $20,000 approved by the city council – that paid for investigations and dozens and dozens of interviews – concluded that now former Sgt. Aaron Goodwin had breached three regulations in the police department’s code of conduct as well as three portions of the city’s code of ethics. Those all pertain to his accepting a gift over $100, which was the inheritance, and interestingly bringing negative attention to the Portsmouth Police Department.

 And that money came from the estate of Geraldine Webber, who passed away. What was Webber’s relationship to Goodwin?

Aaron Goodwin testified during the recent probate court hearing that met Geraldine Webber while he was investigating a report of a possible robbery in that general area. He went to her home. He knew she lived alone and quickly determined that she was not a target. From there, they developed their friendship.

The city recently held a public forum to give people a chance to speak about the report’s findings. What was the tone of the meeting?

The tone of the public forum was angry. One resident was at the podium, waving his finger at the police commissioners telling them to do their damn job. There were several people calling for multiple police officials to be fired and for two of three police commissioners to leave.

What are you hearing from residents in general? How big of a deal is this in town?

It’s a very big deal. When the city council met Monday night, they had an hour long discussion about the future of the police commission, which the Roberts report concluded failed to act with regard to Aaron Goodwin’s inheritance. The city council was advised Monday night they needed to act then in order to get something to voters in the fall about the future of the police commission. The council on Monday night approved three versions of an amendment to city ordinance to eliminate or redesign if you will the police commission. There will be a public hearing on July 13 to debate that and then it goes to the ballot.

Senator Martha Fuller Clark has asked the attorney general’s office to investigate. What’s going on there?

No, and she’s not alone. Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine also wrote to the Attorney General’s office looking to see if they could offer any assistance moving forward.

So there’s still the unanswered question of whether Goodwin can keep the money. Where does that stand?

The separate but related probate court case is with judge Gary Cassavachia. He’s deliberating currently and that case determines whether Geraldine Webber had the mental capacity to endorse the disputed will and trust and or/if former Sgt. Goodwin exerted undue influence over her to become her primary beneficiary.

And how long before we know whether the judge will allow former Sgt. Goodwin to keep the money?

There are a couple outstanding controversies. One is whether audio tape of Goodwin being interviewed about the matter should be allowed into evidence. After the judge rules on those outstanding matters, then he’s got 60 days to deliberate, so I don’t see anything happening super fast. 

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