Gloucester settles lawsuit against health department aide

Apr. 30—GLOUCESTER — The city of Gloucester has reached a settlement with a former part-time Health Department employee who was fired after publicly accusing a Gloucester police officer of being a sex trafficker.

Lawyers for the city and Emily Richey-Stavrand met with a mediator earlier this week and on Wednesday, that mediator filed a notice that there had been a settlement. Judge Douglas Woodlock issued an order dismissing the case on Thursday.

Details of the settlement have not been disclosed. Richey-Stavrand's attorney, Lucas Newbill, did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Both Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, through her aide, and the attorney representing the city, Leonard Kesten, said in separate statements that the case was resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the parties.

Nicole Kieser, the outgoing chief administrative officer for Theken, also said that once the settlement documents are finalized it will be a matter of public record.

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The settlement heads off what could have become a contentious and potentially embarrassing legal process that had started playing out in federal court following a judge's ruling last fall allowing parts of Richey-Stavrand's case to proceed, and a request by Richey-Stavrand earlier this year to add Theken as a defendant in the case.

Richey-Stavrand, who has a background in advocating for victims of human trafficking, was hired as a part-time aide in the city's health department, though her job did not specifically involve that issue.

During a Gloucester city council meeting on June 16, she began asking questions about the budget and salaries, eventually asking about a specific officer. After being told that she could make a public records request for the information, she commented, "OK, cool, I just wanted to know how much of my tax dollars are being used to pay a sex trafficker."

She was fired the following month. In August, she filed a lawsuit against the city, detailing how she'd been told by people she encountered in Gloucester about a "sex for beds" scandal.

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The now nearly-six-year-old matter, details of which have been kept tightly under wraps, allegedly involved young women who were seeking help for substance abuse through the city's highly-touted "Angel" program. Richey-Stavrand said in her lawsuit that she was told the women would be required to engage in sexual activity with officers in exchange for assistance in finding treatment.

City officials cited a policy against making false or defamatory allegations against a city official in firing Richey-Stavrand.

During a hearing last November, U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock remarked that while there hadn't been any determination that the accusation was true or false, he said the lawsuit might become a vehicle for that.

That's because with several counts remaining in the case, the two sides were about to begin the process of exchanging evidence — including still-sealed investigatory reports into the allegations.

The city filed a notice with the court on March 3 asking to be assigned to the court's alternative dispute resolution program.

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The long-shrouded Pond Road investigation, which was last known to have been referred to the U.S. Attorney's office, has come up in several other court cases. Among them are lawsuits filed on behalf of two Gloucester police officers, Clifford Alves and Troy Simoes, who said they faced discrimination due to their military active and reserve duty service and that they were falsely accused of leaking details of the Pond Road scandal.

Those lawsuits are still pending. A series of partial deposition transcripts have been filed by both sides in anticipation of pre-trial motions.

But the portions filed with the court have been stripped of any substantive reference to questions about the Pond Road matter or any answers given.

The settlement comes amid several other controversies for Theken in recent months, including accusations by the city's Board of Health and Health Department that she was interfering with their vaccination process by helping certain people get shots and spreading inaccurate information. Theken denies the accusations, saying she has simply acted as a translator for people in the city.

She's also facing a lawsuit brought by Gloucester harbormaster T.J. Ciarametaro, who has accused her and her administration of creating a hostile work environment. Gloucester community development director Jill Cahill has asked for an independent investigation into the city's working environment.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.

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