Hospital's security chief has tainted past

The former police chief at Mount Wachusett Community College, who left the school in 2005 after being charged with a felony count of indecent assault and battery on a female co-worker and later was let go from two other law enforcement jobs after authorities found out about that case, is working as security chief for Leominster HealthAlliance hospital.

Informed last week that Robert E. Mackie was the hospital's head of security, the son of the woman identified by investigators as the victim in the Mount Wachusett case was enraged.

"In all fairness, he shouldn't be interacting up close and personal with patients in a hospital," said James Partridge, 32, of Fitchburg. "I don't think he deserves a place in any facility where he holds authority as a security guy. You uphold an oath to serve and protect, not serve and violate."

His mother, Denise Partridge, who was a maintenance worker at the Gardner college, died last April of complications from heart disease. She was 49.

Employed there for 10 years, Mr. Mackie, 44, of Winchendon, left Mount Wachusett in 2005 after he was charged with the attack on Mrs. Partridge. Mr. Mackie declined to discuss reasons for his departure from the school, but college president Daniel M. Asquino said his leaving had nothing to do with the sex assault charge.

The following year Mr. Mackie was let go from positions at Assumption College in Worcester and the Barre Police Department after officials learned about the Partridge case.

The charge eventually was reduced to assault and battery, to which Mr. Mackie admitted to sufficient facts for a guilty finding in January 2007. The case was dismissed last year after he finished a year of probation that included mandatory completion of a sexual harassment program and staying away from Mrs. Partridge.

Mrs. Partridge, mother of eight, sued Mr. Mackie in civil court in July 2007 for assault, battery, negligence, emotional distress and violating her civil rights. On Jan. 4, 2008, four months before she died, a Worcester Superior Court judge ruled in her favor and awarded her $57,877 for damages, medical bills and court costs.

Associate Justice Bruce R. Henry ruled that Mr. Mackie sexually assaulted Mrs. Partridge June 11, 2005, near an electrical closet in the school's fitness center during the Relay for Life cancer fundraising walk. The judge also concluded that the attack worsened Mrs. Partridge's pre-existing mental and medical conditions.

"Mackie pushed his groin into her groin and Partridge could feel his penis against her body," Judge Henry wrote in a three-page decision. "Mackie continued to hold Partridge in that position for approximately five minutes. Partridge did not consent to that contact and did not invite it."

Mr. Mackie, father of four, maintained in an interview last week that because he could not afford a lawyer and was forced to represent himself in the civil case, he was "denied" the right to a jury trial. He said he intends to appeal the ruling and demand a new hearing.

Ordinarily, notice of intent to appeal a civil court ruling must be filed within 30 days of the decision. Mr. Mackie, however, said it is his understanding that he can appeal after court action is taken to collect the money he was ordered to pay.

Mr. Mackie was the subject of at least one other sexual harassment complaint while he was employed at the community college. It also was filed in 2005 by a former employee, Taunja Golding, who alleged that Mr. Mackie sent her harassing e-mails and made unwelcome sexual remarks to her.

Ms. Golding, an acquaintance of Mrs. Partridge, also was interviewed by state police investigators who brought the original sex assault charge against Mr. Mackie, according to court documents.

Leominster HealthAlliance officials last week stood by Mr. Mackie, who was named manager of security for the hospital last September.

David Duncan, the hospital's corporate vice president for facilities and engineering, said Mr. Mackie went through a "pretty normal" hiring process along with about a half-dozen other applicants.

That process included discussions with references and a check with the state to see whether Mr. Mackie had any criminal convictions. A report from the state's Criminal Offender Record Information Services registry contained no mention of the Partridge plea or any other criminal matter involving Mr. Mackie, Mr. Duncan said.

"When Bob applied for his job, some of his past was discussed," Mr. Duncan said. "When he applied, he had a wealth of talent and experience and a strong skill set that was a perfect fit for the job."

Mr. Duncan said he was not aware of the civil lawsuit or that Mr. Mackie was ordered by a judge to attend a sexual harassment program. Now that he knows the information, he said he plans to discuss the matter with the hospital's human resources department.

"We had in-depth discussion of his past," Mr. Duncan said. "He didn't volunteer that stuff."

Mr. Mackie declined to comment about anything related to his employment at the hospital or the college.

Gail Allen, chairman of the hospital's trustees, did not respond to a request for comment.

Officials of the hospital's parent company, Worcester-based UMass Memorial Health Care, shrugged off the matter.

"HealthAlliance makes its own hiring decisions," said Mark L. Shelton, a spokesman for the hospital system. "They have their own hiring procedures and policies that they follow when they're evaluating and hiring candidates and UMass Memorial Health Care does not involve itself in these decisions."

Mr. Mackie was in criminal court as recently as a year ago after he violated terms of his probation by failing to pay $650 in court costs for monthly monitoring of his probation. He apparently paid the fees, and the case later was dismissed, according to records in Gardner District Court.

It is unclear how Mount Wachusett officials dealt with the sexual harassment complaint lodged by Ms. Golding.

Ms. Golding told the investigating state police officers that she received e-mail messages from Mr. Mackie containing comments about her body, asking her to bring him a snack around midnight during the Relay for Life, and saying he would be lonely if he didn't see her, among others. She declined a Telegram & Gazette request for an interview.

Mr. Asquino, the college's president, said he continues to support Mr. Mackie and that he believes the criminal court's dismissal of the case without a finding "would indicate that the allegation itself was somewhat questionable."

"I stand behind Mr. Mackie. He was an outstanding employee and I'd hire him back today," Mr. Asquino said.

Previously, Mr. Asquino said that an earlier inquiry by the college into Mrs. Partridge's allegation found that there wasn't a strong case against Mr. Mackie and that disciplinary action wasn't warranted.

Mr. Asquino also said at the time that the college dismissed a sexual harassment complaint against Mr. Mackie in mid-2005 - about the time Ms. Golding said she was being targeted by Mr. Mackie. Last week, Mr. Asquino refused to comment about whether Mr. Mackie had ever been reprimanded or suspended while he worked at the school.

While Mr. Mackie has been gone from Mount Wachusett Community College for four years, he still has close ties to the school, as does his current boss, Mr. Duncan.

Mr. Duncan's wife, Robin A. Duncan, a former aerobics instructor at the college's fitness center and a special assistant to Mr. Asquino, now is an assistant vice president for community affairs at the school. Mr. Mackie's wife, Michelle A. Mackie, a former homemaker, recently was hired as a staff assistant at the college's Leominster branch.

Mr. Duncan said his connection to the school had nothing to do with hiring Mr. Mackie.

"I didn't know Mackie before," Mr. Duncan said. "I knew of him. We got several reference checks from the `Mount.'"

Mr. Duncan noted that Mr. Mackie has been instrumental in improving security recently at the hospital's Leominster campus emergency room, where two violent attacks on female employees took place in December.

But Richard Bardi, a Boston lawyer who represented Mrs. Partridge in the lawsuit against Mr. Mackie and who is setting up her estate, said Mr. Mackie hasn't made any payments toward the judgment levied against him by the court. The lawyer maintains Mr. Mackie never should have been put in the position of responsibility that the hospital security position entails.

"I can assure Mr. Mackie we will hunt him down like the dog he is and he will pay every last nickel," Mr. Bardi said. "He's a disgrace to any organization that holds itself out as a police or security organization."

Mr. Mackie acknowledged that he hasn't paid anything toward the judgment against him, adding that he has no plans to do so.

"He doesn't have to hunt me down. He knows where I live," he said. "I have zero intention of paying a dime until I get my jury trial."