The city of Saco will pay former Police Chief Raynald Demers $116,000 and continue to pay for his health coverage for four years in exchange for his agreeing not to sue the municipality.

The agreement, which one employment attorney not connected to the case said was a generous package, releases the city from all legal claims Demers might have brought. It was executed May 20, the same day that the city announced that Demers and Deputy Chief Corey Huntress were cleared of any wrongdoing following weeks of investigation into still-unspecified allegations.

Former Saco Police Chief Raynald Demers Press Herald file photo

The sole signatories are Demers and outgoing City Administrator Kevin Sutherland, who announced this month that he would not seek to renew his contract and plans to leave Saco on Dec. 31. The agreement includes provisions that neither party admit liability, and both parties agreed not to disparage the other.

Demers’ attorney, Stacey Neumann, declined to comment on the agreement. A message left for Demers at home was not returned.

On the same day the agreement was executed, the two unions representing rank-and-file officers and midlevel commanding officers released a statement describing their unanimous vote of no-confidence against Demers and Huntress.

“The vast majority of (police union) members met with the investigator and expressed significant issues within the agency,” the unions wrote at the time. “The depth of the issues, and the volume of complaints brought to the investigator would have led any reasonable person to understand that Ray Demers and Corey Huntress are unfit to lead any organization, especially a police department.”

The $116,000 in cash payments will be disbursed in two equal parts spread over 2019 and 2020. Demers has already received a first check for $58,000. The next installment will be made after the start of 2020 but before March 2. Health care benefits will extend until July 1, 2023.  Demers also received a one-time payment of $48,129.36 for his accrued sick time and vacation, but that was based on earned time he saved up during his nearly 35-year career.

David Webbert, a labor attorney with Johnson Webbert & Young, who has been president of the Maine Employment Lawyers Association since 1994, said he believes the settlement is generous, but precisely how good a deal is hard to assess without more information.

Webbert was not involved in Demers’ case and could not comment on what precise factors may have played a part. But he said that the consideration for continued health insurance is a signal that the deal was favorable to Demers, possibly because the city recognized his service, or Demers held some legal leverage, or some other combination of factors.

“That’s not an automatic that you’d get that (health care),” Webbert said. “It’s something that would reflect either some exemplary performance or some legal leverage, or something mutually beneficial.”

For Demers, who is 58, Webbert said any continued health-care benefit could be considered a windfall beyond its pure dollar value. People between the ages of 55 and 65 do not yet have access to government-funded Medicare benefits, but it’s a time in life when many people begin to need more health coverage. For those without adequate insurance, health costs can be a catastrophic financial burden.

“I would say this is somewhat on the generous side,” said Webbert. “I can’t really analyze whether it’s a good deal for Saco or a good deal for the employee without knowing all of the facts and issues.”

Although there was a City Council meeting on the night the release agreement was executed, it was not clear whether Sutherland briefed the councilors or if the council had input before the terms of the agreement were finalized; Sutherland and Demers are the sole signatories.

Linda McGill, an attorney with Bernstein Shur who advises the city on employment issues, declined to answer questions about whether she was consulted during the negotiation process.

On Wednesday, Sutherland refused to answer questions about the process, including where the money would come from and how the city would continue to pay health benefits to someone who is no longer an employee, and how much those benefits will cost.

When contacted by a reporter, every city councilor either did not respond to requests for comment or declined to discuss the issues, citing the privileged nature of executive session discussions.

Mayor Marston Lovell, who is a voting member of the council, did not return calls seeking comment. But the agreement reveals how the city and Demers orchestrated and planned his exit before it was publicly acknowledged, while also asserting that his retirement was not connected with or a result of the investigation.

The documents were released in response to a public records request by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

Demers and Huntress were placed on administrative leave on March 15, pending the outcome of an internal investigation into unspecified allegations of misconduct that still have not been disclosed.

Initially, Sutherland cited potential “communication issues” he wanted to address within the police department, but after receiving additional information, Sutherland chose to place the police leaders on leave. He announced the decision in an email to city staff.

A week later, the two unions representing rank-and-file officers sent a joint letter to the City Council and the mayor following a unanimous no-confidence vote in the leadership of Demers and Huntress, but the city has refused to release that letter, citing an exemption for personnel records.

Roughly two months later, an outside investigator concluded that there was no evidence of misconduct, and Sutherland said on May 20 that Huntress and Demers would be reinstated.

“Police Chief Demers and Deputy Chief Huntress are being reinstated and will be returning to work later this week,” Sutherland wrote in a statement at the time. Huntress is still employed with the department.

What would happen next was stipulated in the agreement but withheld from the public: Demers would return to work May 22, the city would make a public statement that was mutually acceptable to both parties absolving Demers of any wrongdoing, and Demers would retire before July 1.

“This retirement is not associated in any way with the investigation,” the agreement reads. “Demers will retire in good standing with all of the benefits and accolades befitting a person in his position.”

Demers made his retirement official with a May 31 letter to the city, and said June 14 would be his last day. Demers began receiving roughly $5,450 in monthly retirement benefits starting July 1, according to the Maine Public Employees Retirement System.

“I thank you for your support and trust in me,” Demers wrote in his retirement letter. “I cannot overstate how important your continued belief in my ability to lead the Saco Police Department and your trust that I always had the City and the Police Departments best interest in mind means to me.”

The city’s search for Demers’ replacement continues.

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