Attorneys on both sides of a bitter, four-year dispute which centers on painful charges of racism against the town of Tisbury and its police department announced yesterday that a settlement has been reached in the case.

Attorneys for Theopholis M. (T.M.) Silvia 3rd and the town of Tisbury said yesterday that the terms of the settlement are extremely complicated and will not be disclosed until the agreement is approved by both the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) and a Superior Court judge.

But it is understood that if the settlement is approved, Mr. Silvia will resign from the town police department and will receive a payment of approximately $350,000.

Attorneys on both sides of the case are withholding all comment on any details associated with the settlement.

Mr. Silvia has been a patrolman with the Tisbury police force since 1994.

“By agreeing to this settlement, the parties have determined to put aside their differences and put an end to what has been a contentious and divisive process,” declared a carefully worded press statement released late yesterday.

The statement continued: “For its part, the town of Tisbury recognizes that Officer Silvia was subjected to improper conduct at various times during his employment. However, the town, the police department and the selectmen categorically deny ever approving or condoning such misconduct, and categorically deny any acts of discrimination.”

The statement was released by Richard Renehan, a partner with Hill & Barlow in Boston who represents the town of Tisbury in the dispute, and James H. Budreau, a Boston attorney and sole practitioner who represents Mr. Silvia.

The dispute dates back to 1996 when Mr. Silvia filed a complaint with the MCAD claiming that he was the subject of discrimination and prolonged harassment by police department management. Mr. Silvia claimed that the harassment was related to his ethnic background, which is African American and Cape Verdean.

In his complaint Mr. Silvia detailed a disturbing and unpleasant pattern of alleged discrimination and harassment, which included derogatory drawings hung in the police station, and an incident which involved reported tampering with one of Mr. Silvia’s police reports in the department computer. Mr. Silvia also claimed he was forced to work the most undesirable midnight shifts and that he was denied opportunities for training.
The town denied the charges.

At a hearing in 1997 MCAD officials found probable cause, and the case has been pending since then.

The case has caused painful and damaging divisions in the Tisbury police department and also in the Vineyard community over the last three years. At one point the Island chapter of the NAACP called for the resignation of Tisbury police chief John McCarthy. Scores of Vineyard residents and public officials responded by rallying around the police chief, defending his reputation and long record of service.

During another period an MCAD complaint was filed against a retired Tisbury police sergeant for allegedly threatening a witness in the Silvia case. The case was later settled and the retired sergeant was cleared of any guilt or liability in the matter.

In the aftermath of the charges against the police department, one Tisbury police officer was fired amid charges that he engaged in inappropriate behavior toward Mr. Silvia.

John Dillon, who was a Tisbury police officer for 12 years, was dismissed in May of 1997. Mr. Dillon appealed the dismissal and an independent arbitrator later concluded that the town fired Mr. Dillon with just cause.

Amid all of this, Mr. Dillon filed a libel lawsuit against the Island chapter of the NAACP and the Martha’s Vineyard Times, a weekly Island newspaper. The lawsuit was later dropped.

Somewhat ironically, just as a settlement was announced between Mr. Silvia and the town yesterday, the news also surfaced of a fresh libel lawsuit from Mr. Dillon.

The lawsuit was filed on March 10 in Barnstable Superior Court against an array of town officials, the Martha’s Vineyard Chapter of the NAACP and the Martha’s Vineyard Times. The complaint names some 22 defendants, including two former Tisbury selectmen and one current selectman and the entire board of directors of the Island chapter of the NAACP.

In the complaint Mr. Dillon charges that the NAACP persuaded town officials to dismiss him “in a deliberate attempt to severely damage” his reputation.

The complaint claims that since the dismissal Mr. Dillon has been unable to obtain employment in the field of law enforcement and that he has suffered “great physical and emotional pain.”

The complaint also charges that published reports which referred to alleged racist incidents are false and reckless because Mr. Silvia is in fact white.

“Theopholis M. Silvia 3rd is white, and was white [at the time of the alleged racist incidents],” the complaint claims. The complaint claims that Mr. Silvia is listed as white on his birth certificate.

None of the parties named as defendants in the lawsuit had been formally served with the complaint as of yesterday.

In the settlement announcement yesterday, attorneys for the town and Mr. Silvia called for an end to the divisions.

The announcement concludes:

“Officer Silvia wishes to extend his appreciation to all those who have supported him through these difficult times. In particular, he thanks MCAD for its thorough and professional investigation, and his family and friends, who provided him with the support and strength necessary to reach this point.

“The parties acknowledge that this case has caused significant stress for officer Silvia and his family, as well as for the town and the police department. The parties are hopeful that the resolution of this case will start the healing process for everyone involved.”