‘A TOWN WITHOUT PITY’: LAWSUITS ALLEGE POLICE COVER-UP OF SEX ABUSE BY OFFICERS IN MAINE

By Roxanna Asgarian, The Appeal

Illustrations by Cameron Wray

Illustrations by Cameron Wray

In October 2014, Matt Lauzon walked into the police station in his hometown of Biddeford, Maine, with a long-held secret. He was determined, finally, to tell investigators that one of their officers had sexually abused him nearly 15 years earlier, when he was a teenager.

“I was terrified,” he recalled. He was so nervous he thought he might throw up. 

He met with a detective and explained what had happened: The officer, Stephen Dodd, had repeatedly coerced him into sex acts, he said, and then shamed him into silence. The detective took a statement and said he would pass the information along to the attorney general’s office. But Lauzon heard nothing for months. Frustrated with the lack of movement on his case, he took his story to Facebook. 

To his surprise, his post prompted others to come forward. “It was a tsunami of people saying ‘it happened to me’ or ‘I know someone it happened to,’” Lauzon said. Soon similar allegations emerged against another former officer, Norman Gaudette.

special City Council meeting was called for alleged victims to speak out and air their concerns about what top police officials knew, when they knew it, and whether they could have prevented later abuse by acting sooner. Realizing that others have had experiences like his has been hard for Lauzon to accept. “I’ve been more frustrated by the enablement of abuse than the abuse itself at times,” he said. 

Since then, Lauzon and another alleged victim have filed civil suits against Dodd, and two other plaintiffs have filed suits against Gaudette, with claims of sexual abuse that span decades. Both officers, now retired, deny all wrongdoing. 

In the lawsuits, the plaintiffs argue that the longtime police chief, Roger Beaupre, and his department knew or should have known about the behavior, as it was part of a pattern, and that by failing to deal with Dodd and Gaudette, the department and its chief enabled the abuse to continue. Beaupre did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story. 

In Lauzon’s case, which also names Beaupre and the city of Biddeford as defendants, new documents were recently filed, and a ruling on the city’s motion for summary judgment, which will determine if the suit goes to trial, is expected soon.

For Lauzon, now 34, this is a turning point. He said he told no one about the abuse when it happened. He moved away to college and then started a career as a tech entrepreneur in Boston. It wasn’t until his dad died suddenly in 2005 that the memories became too difficult to ignore, and Lauzon began reckoning with the effects of the abuse on his life. He became depressed and started having trouble with relationships.

Lauzon says his experience shows the tremendous power invested in police officers and how that power can lead to corruption and abuse. Even when police protocol was followed and cases went through the proper channels, files disappeared and the officers were allowed to stay on the force. 

Four years after filing the lawsuit, Lauzon is still waiting for his case to go to trial. In the meantime, his life has been upended. “If I knew what this would entail,” Lauzon says now, “I would not have had the courage to do it.”

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