Note: This piece is being co-published by NEPM and The Shoestring.
HOLYOKE — A police captain in Holyoke, Massachusetts, recently resigned shortly before an independent investigation concluded that he sexually harassed subordinates and violated other city and departmental policies.
Capt. Manuel Reyes has been on paid leave since March, when a Holyoke District Court judge approved a harassment prevention order against him based on testimony from a junior officer in the department. In court documents, that officer alleged that Reyes groped and kissed her without her consent and made repeated, unwanted sexual advances to her.
Now, a consulting firm the city hired to investigate the claims has found Reyes violated city and departmental rules against sexual harassment, and that he unlawfully looked up the criminal background of his estranged wife’s ex-boyfriend. The firm Discrimination and Harassment Solutions completed its investigative report on Sept. 28 and a separate response to Reyes on Oct. 8, according to copies of the documents The Shoestring and NEPM have obtained.
Reyes worked for around a decade running the Holyoke Police Department’s internal affairs unit, which conducts internal investigations into complaints from the public and other alleged officer misconduct. An NEPM investigation into civilian complaints against Holyoke police found that of the 92 times an officer was named in one of those complaints from 2010 to 2020, only three ever faced discipline.
But the city never moved to fire Reyes, who said he was able to retire as of Oct. 13. And because Reyes retired — a fact MassLive first reported — he is able to collect his pension. He was also able to receive a payout of $150,222 for the unused paid time off he had accumulated over nearly 25 years working in the department. Reyes made $168,863 in pay in 2022, according to city payroll records.
Police Chief David Pratt did not respond to an interview request. In a statement, Lt. John Monaghan said that just before the investigation became final, Reyes made the decision to retire. He said the matter is now closed and that the city has sent all relevant information to the state’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, which certifies police officers.
“While we cannot speak for them, it is anticipated that that body will act with regards to Captain Reyes’ certification as a police officer in Massachusetts,” Monaghan said.
In an interview this week, Reyes described the episode as a “fully consensual workplace romance” that lasted for several months in early 2020.
“After about 10 weeks, we mutually agreed to maintain a cordial and professional relationship,” Reyes said. “Three years later, after learning she was in jeopardy of losing her job, she decided to make these allegations against me.”
However, the report into Reyes’ conduct found that the subordinate officer expressed discomfort shortly after the first incident in question, when Reyes asked her to dance with him in his office.
“Reyes called me up to his office…and I had no choice,” the report quotes the subordinate officer saying in an email to a friend shortly after that encounter. “He has so much power and I hate it.”
When The Shoestring and NEPM asked Reyes if it’s possible to have a fully consensual relationship with a subordinate, he said it depended on context.
The report also found that Reyes kissed and touched the woman in his office, and that during a city-paid training at the shooting range, he gave her a racy poem that “compares the act of shooting to sexual intercourse.”
In a statement, the woman’s lawyer, Raymond Dinsmore, told The Shoestring and NEPM the matter is the subject of ongoing litigation at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. He said his client’s complaint alleges that Reyes created a sexually hostile work environment and retaliated against her for rejecting his “repeated and unwelcome sexual advances.”
The outside investigator did not uphold allegations of retaliation against Reyes because of a lack of evidence.
Dinsmore pointed to the investigator’s conclusions that Reyes violated sexual harassment and moral conduct policies, noting that a judge also granted, then extended, a harassment prevention order against Reyes.
“We think that there is a good reason why these individuals and institutions that have been tasked with examining Mr. Reyes’s conduct reached the conclusions that they did,” Dinsmore said.
The outside investigator also found other instances in which Reyes violated sexual harassment policies in his interactions with that officer and another woman in the department who accused him of making inappropriate sexual remarks to her.
In arguing his case, Reyes presented emails to the investigators that he said portrayed the relationship between himself and the woman as reciprocal. However, the outside investigator, Regina Ryan, said her interpretation of those emails were that they showed the subordinate officer “was uncomfortable and trying to reject her boss’s advances gently.”
The investigation also concluded that Reyes had illegally looked into the criminal background of his estranged wife’s ex-boyfriend, who she had begun communicating with.
Reyes said the report was “one-sided and biased.” He said Ryan minimized discrepancies and omissions he pointed out. He also accused other police officers of conspiring against him “to achieve a false result” — claims Ryan concluded were unfounded in a separate response she wrote to Reyes on Oct. 8.
Reyes, who is 48, said that as of Oct. 13 he is officially retired with his pension. He said “an excellent opportunity” has come up for him and that he has always had aspirations of starting his own business.
“With everything that’s happening, with the sentiment against police officers, it was just the right time,” he said. “I loved my career. I’m proud of my career.”
Reyes rose through the ranks over 24 years at the Holyoke Police Department. He was a member of Mayor Joshua Garcia’s transition team after he was elected in 2021. Reyes was promoted to captain in 2022.
In an email, Garcia, who as mayor has the authority to fire a police officer, said it was his decision to hire an outside investigator to look at the allegations against Reyes. He said this is a “pivotal moment” for the Holyoke Police Department and the city.
“I want all employees and the public to know that as mayor, my expectation is to continue to raise the bar for professionalism for all municipal employees, especially employees in positions of leadership,” he said. “Situations like this one we take very seriously and when they happen, although we work to make sure it never does, they will be investigated and we will take appropriate action.”
When asked how Reyes was able to retire before the city moved to terminate him, Garcia didn’t answer directly. He said Reyes’ retirement “was a personal decision made by him” and that as soon as city officials learned of his retirement they contacted the POST Commission. Because Reyes retired, Garcia said that he is entitled to his benefits “whether I personally agree with it or not.”
“Although I do have opinions and personal feelings on the outcome that I will not get into, I feel good about the message we are sending to our employees and to the public on what our expectations are for professionalism and our willingness to investigate and take appropriate action on matters that conflict with our standards,” Garcia said.
When Reyes retired, the city was obligated to pay him out for all of his unused paid time off. That figure totals $150,222. That includes $102,813 for unused sick time, $16,176 for vacation time, $26,197 for additional “time owed,” $4,412 in holiday differential pay and a $625 longevity bonus.
Reacting to the news of Reyes’ retirement, at-large City Councilor Kevin Jourdain said he has been pressing the city to rethink how it handles putting employees on paid leave while investigations into alleged misconduct play out.
“This case is further highlighting our need for further review,” he said.
In March, Garcia’s office released an outside consulting firm’s audit of the Holyoke Police Department’s practices. One of the report’s findings was that the city had agreed to “generously negotiated” contracts with its police unions around issues including time off.
“Somebody gave the farm away and you’re now paying for it,” one of the consultants told elected officials during a City Council meeting.
Update: This story has been updated to include the amount of money that the city paid Reyes for his unused paid time off.
Dusty Christensen is an independent investigative reporter based in western Massachusetts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dustyc123. Photo credit: Google Maps
The Shoestring is committed to bringing you ad-free content. We rely on readers to support our work! You can support independent news for Western Mass by visiting our Donate page.