‘A Town Without Pity’: Lawsuits Allege Police Cover-up of Sex Abuse by Officers in Maine
The accusations span decades and involve two separate Biddeford cops and at least seven alleged victims.
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.
A 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.
I’ve been more frustrated by the enablement of abuse than the abuse itself at times.Matt Lauzon, plaintiff
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.”
Lauzon was 14 when he started working part-time on a cleaning crew that did odd jobs around Biddeford. The blue-collar mill town has 20,000 mostly white residents, many with French Canadian roots.
It was spring 2000, Lauzon recalled in an interview with The Appeal, and he was sweeping up left-behind dirt and sand in a bank parking lot after the snow had melted when he was approached by a man, Michael McKeown, who chatted with him as he worked. McKeown offered to get him some food from a Burger King nearby; when Lauzon said no thanks, he did it anyway. Afterward, they walked past Lauzon’s old Little League field, where McKeown lived across the street.
Lauzon doesn’t know why he went inside McKeown’s house. His memory of the incident is spotty, but he vividly remembers McKeown initiating oral sex on him. He felt “like a deer in headlights,” he says, and recalls pulling his pants up and leaving McKeown’s home in tears. (McKeown, who recently died, acknowledged having a sexual encounter with Lauzon but said it occurred years later, when Lauzon was no longer a minor.)
Lauzon went home that day and told no one about the alleged abuse. But months later, McKeown called the house looking for Lauzon, prompting Lauzon’s father to contact the police to report that McKeown was harassing his son. Two officers came out and took a report. They asked Lauzon, then 15, if McKeown, who had been convicted of earlier sex crimes and was on the sex offender registry, had abused him. “I denied it; I was really embarrassed,” Lauzon said.
The officers filed the report, although police said at the time they did not have enough evidence to charge McKeown with harassment. The supervising officer who signed off on the report was Sgt. Stephen Dodd.
Later that same year, Lauzon says, Dodd contacted him in an instant message, told him that he knew about what had happened with McKeown, and said he could help. “I understood that to mean that he was a police officer and even though I lied to the other police officers, this was my chance to hold McKeown accountable,” Lauzon said.
But that wasn’t the case, Lauzon recalled. Dodd picked Lauzon up in his civilian car and drove him past the police station, out past the town line and down a dirt road. Lauzon says Dodd told him “it was okay to be gay” and then performed oral sex on him.
“The moment I realized he had tricked me, deceived me, made me believe he was there to help—that’s what haunts me most,” Lauzon said. “Because, like, who can you trust?”
Lauzon says the abuse happened several times after that and that after he ended contact, Dodd would park his cruiser outside his house and flash his lights, which Lauzon thinks was meant to intimidate him. “He was always showing up and making it clear he was watching.”
In the lawsuit documents, Dodd admits to a sexual relationship with Lauzon, but says it happened after Lauzon turned 16, the age of consent in Maine. (A bill signed into law in June makes it a crime for police officers to engage in sexual acts with those who are arrested, detained, or questioned in the course of an investigation.)
When contacted by phone Dodd declined to discuss Lauzon’s allegations, saying only, “Consider the source.”
In 2015, the Maine attorney general declined to prosecute Lauzon’s criminal case against Dodd. The office would not comment for this story, but a press release at the time of the decision explained its rationale: “A thorough investigation by [the Attorney General’s] office and a legal analysis by senior prosecutors concluded that there is insufficient evidence to prove the elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, including the element of Mr. Lauzon’s age at the time of the alleged encounters.”
But Lauzon isn’t the only one who has accused Dodd of abuse. Unbeknownst to Lauzon at the time he went public, Rick Alexander, now in his 50s, had reported Dodd to the state attorney general’s office in 2002, saying Dodd had abused him when they were both children in the 1970s. Spurred by the sex abuse scandal by Catholic priests making headlines at the time, Alexander told authorities that the abuse started when Alexander was 10 or 11 and Dodd was five years older.
Alexander reported the abuse to the Maine attorney general’s office in 2002, which opened an investigation. Dodd was placed on leave during the investigation and retired in 2003 at age 46, due to health issues. Dodd has not commented on Alexander’s allegations and declined to comment on them for this story.
In 2016, two years after Lauzon went public, and a year after he filed his lawsuit, another accuser sued Dodd. Bert Girard says Dodd sexually assaulted him when he was 14 or 15. He said he met the officer when Dodd came to his house to drop off his brother, who had gotten in trouble. In his deposition, Girard said Dodd saw that the boy and his brothers were living in a troubled home, with an alcoholic father and an ill mother, and returned on subsequent occasions, bringing Girard clothes and alcohol. Girard says that shortly after they met, Dodd invited him to move into his home and Girard accepted the offer.
According to Girard, that is when the sexual abuse started, continuing on and off for years, whenever Girard needed a place to live. Two of Girard’s brothers also reported to the attorney general’s office that Dodd had abused them during overnight stays at Dodd’s house.
Girard recently dropped his claims against the city and the police department, due to Maine’s statute of limitations. In a statement at the time, the city said: “We have maintained since the beginning that Mr. Girard’s claims were baseless, and that the City of Biddeford, the Biddeford Police Department and Chief Beaupre conducted themselves appropriately and in accordance with the law at all times.”
Girard is still suing Dodd, who declined to comment about the suit for this story or to local news outlets at the time the suit was filed. In April, attorneys for Dodd filed a motion for summary judgment in the case on the grounds that the statute of limitations for the allegations made against him had expired. That ruling is still pending.
Another officer accused
Public outrage over Dodd’s long tenure often lands in the lap of Chief Beaupre. And that’s partly because, according to court documents, something similar had happened before.
Robert Poisson was a detective at the Biddeford Police Department in the mid ’80s and remembers a young man named Michael Frenette coming into the station with a social worker around that time. Poisson, who retired from the force in 2004, said Frenette was in his teens or early 20s and told Poisson that an officer in the department, Norman Gaudette, had sexually assaulted him.
According to Poisson’s recollection in his deposition, Frenette said he was walking by a bank the previous evening when he saw Gaudette inside cleaning. Gaudette, who also owned a cleaning company, banged on the window and motioned for Frenette to come in. They knew each other because Frenette had had multiple run-ins with the police. But after he went inside, Frenette said Gaudette demanded oral sex, telling Frenette he would charge him with burglary if he didn’t comply.
Poisson remembers taking the statement from Frenette. “He dictated and I wrote it, and I turned that in to the chief of police. I handed it to him,” Poisson told The Appeal. “The deputy chief, Benoit Martin, was in the room, and [Beaupre] looked at him and handed it to him and I assumed he was going to be the one to investigate it. I never heard anything else about it.”
As in Dodd’s case, there were other allegations against Gaudette. Lawrence Ouellette says that in the 1980s, when Ouellette was a teenager, Gaudette approached him in his police cruiser, told him he looked like he could use new clothes, and offered to get him a job at a bank. He opened an account at a men’s clothing store for Ouellette, and visited him often while on duty to “wrestle” with him, according to a lawsuit he filed in 2016 against Gaudette, Beaupre, and the city of Biddeford. The suit claims that when Ouellette was 15, Gaudette took the young man to his camper in the woods, got him drunk, and sexually assaulted him, the first of multiple encounters.
In a lawsuit filed in 2017, another man, Scott Frechette, made a similar claim. He says he met Gaudette when he was 17 in 1989 or 1990. Gaudette found out Frechette was destitute and needed a place to stay, and rented him a motel room. According to the lawsuit, Frechette alleges that Gaudette came back to the room later and forced sex acts on him.
Michael Pulire, a detective for the Maine attorney general’s office, investigated claims against both officers. In a 2017 deposition, Pulire said that Frechette told him in the 1990s that Gaudette had sexually abused him. Frechette later recanted his claims. (His attorney, Walter McKee, now argues that Frechette was pressured to recant by Gene Libby, the former York County district attorney who represents Gaudette and previously represented Dodd while he was being investigated for sexual abuse. Libby denied the allegations to The Appeal.)
In his deposition, Pulire said he had sought an arrest warrant for Libby for victim tampering during his investigation in the early 1990s, but the warrant was not authorized by his supervisor.
Pulire also noted that he found Frechette sincere. “Scott Frechette provided information to us that would indicate that Captain Gaudette had committed what we had probable cause to believe was a gross sexual assault,” he said in the deposition. Pulire said he interviewed multiple potential victims during his investigation.
“Most of the individuals that were identified to me were persons that came from a lower socioeconomic background that had discourse with law enforcement,” Pulire said. A pattern emerged, Pulire added, that “as post-pubescent young men in their early teens, that they were befriended by Captain Gaudette, they were provided gifts by Captain Gaudette, that they were taken on camping trips by Captain Gaudette, that in some cases they were provided alcoholic beverages, that Captain Gaudette sought from them a sexual relationship, in some cases that sexual relationship took place against the will of the persons that were interviewed.”
Gaudette was placed on administrative leave in 1990 while the claims of Frechette, Ouellette, Frenette and other alleged victims were investigated by the Maine attorney general’s office. But Gaudette was reinstated after a grand jury chose not to indict him in Frechette’s case. He retired as a captain in 2001.
Libby said Gaudette denies the allegations raised in the lawsuits. “Not only does he deny them, but they were presented to a grand jury and the grand jury returned a no bill,” he told The Appeal.
McKee, who is also Ouellette’s attorney, said that only Frechette’s claims were brought to a grand jury; Ouellette was not given the chance to testify, and neither were several other alleged victims, whose cases were never presented to the grand jury at all.
The allegations against Dodd and Gaudette rocked the small town of Biddeford and were featured in local news articles and in the Boston Globe in 2015. Four separate civil rights lawsuits have now been filed—Lauzon’s and Girard’s suits against Dodd, and Ouellette’s and Frechette’s cases against Gaudette—under Section 1983, a law aimed at protecting civilians from government employees who violate their constitutional rights while acting “under the color of the law.”
But four years later, none of the lawsuits have gone to trial. Lauzon is hopeful his case will eventually be heard, but says he feels worn down by the legal process. His attorney, Walter McKee—who also represents Ouellette and Frechette—recently filed new documents detailing the multiple abuse claims made against officers at the Biddeford Police Department, including an investigation into reports of abuse made by Dodd’s now deceased foster son.
The plaintiffs also allege that key documents have disappeared.
In his lawsuit, Lauzon said Dodd used his position as a supervising officer to access the harassment report filed by his family in order to target Lauzon for abuse. Girard alleges that some sex acts were committed against him while Dodd was in uniform and on duty.
The plaintiffs also allege that key documents have disappeared. The statement that Detective Poisson recalls taking from Frenette about Gaudette, for instance, could not be found during discovery for Lauzon’s lawsuit, and neither could other written reports filed by other former officers regarding allegations of abuse against Dodd dating back to the 1980s.
In court filings, the department says some of those reports may have been lost to water damage while others were turned over, without copies made, to the Maine attorney general’s office. Pulire explained in his deposition that those records were purged by staff without permission, violating the usual protocol, after the investigations against the two officers closed. The attorney general’s office declined to comment on why the files were purged or answer other questions for this story.
There are also no records of any of the abuse claims against Dodd and Gaudette in their personnel files. In their recent response to a filing in Lauzon’s lawsuit, lawyers for the city and its police chief say that’s because those records were expunged as required by an agreement with the Biddeford police union. The city of Biddeford and its police department say that the chief followed protocol by referring the investigations of both officers to the attorney general’s office.
McKee said, missing documents aside, the testimony given by Poisson and other former officers is proof that the department knew about abuse allegations and failed to act. “That evidence was a game changer,” he said. “In absence of that evidence, it’s hard to bring a claim against the chief.”
The city and the police chief insist that any sex that occured between the officers and the plaintiffs happened while the officers were acting as private citizens. In their motion for a summary judgment in Lauzon’s case, the city states: “There is no constitutional duty requiring the City Defendants to protect others from private harm and the record demonstrates no actual or constructive knowledge of Plaintiff’s abuse by Dodd.” In addition, it argues that Beaupre is protected against the lawsuit by qualified immunity, which shields public officials unless they have violated rights that are clearly established by the constitution or federal law.
Biddeford’s mayor, Alan Casavant, declined to comment for this story, citing the ongoing litigation. The city and police department have filed motions for summary judgment in the three cases that are still pending against them, arguing that the claims have passed the statute of limitations for supervisory liability, which is six years.
“The significant conflicts in memory, testimony, and documentary evidence underscore the important policy considerations behind having and enforcing a statute of limitations,” wrote an attorney for the city and its police chief in a newly filed response. The plaintiffs argue that they were not fully aware of the police department’s role or the pattern of abuse until Lauzon came forward in 2015 and others followed.
Gaudette denies all the allegations against him, and has filed defamation suits against the parent company of The Courier, a local paper that ran a series of stories investigating the claims, and against Terry Davis, a former police detective whose allegations were reported in the paper. Libby, Gaudette’s attorney, says the paper ran false claims about Gaudette without verifying their accuracy. The parent company, Mainely Media, has defended the reporting and filed a motion for summary judgment in that case, citing First Amendment grounds. The parties are awaiting a decision.
In his 2017 deposition, Detective Pulire defended Chief Beaupre, noting that he had cooperated with the attorney general’s investigation and provided all documents requested. He said Beaupre never admitted to having personal knowledge that was “actionable” and might not have had the power to act on his own. In the course of his investigation, Pulire said, it became clear to him that the problem ran deeper than just the police.
“I would refer to the city of Biddeford as a town without pity,” he said in his deposition. “You heard things from people throughout the course of many, many, many, many conversations that these weren’t two isolated incidents, that this was a cultural thing, and that, for whatever reason, it was allowed to go on. I can’t explain it.”
The weight of memory
The allegations against the two officers span 30 years, starting in the 1970s, and detail a familiar pattern: adults with power identifying vulnerable victims, grooming them, abusing them, and shaming them into silence.
Some of the alleged victims in these cases denied their abuse initially or later recanted their allegations. Some wrestled with substance use disorder or mental illness, making their cases legally difficult to prosecute.
But none of that is unusual, said trauma psychologist Jim Hopper, a teaching associate at Harvard Medical School whose research focuses on the neurobiology of trauma and sexual assault. “You pick someone who is vulnerable and inflict further harm on them, and then use the symptoms of that harm—substance abuse, mental health issues, and future interactions with the law—to get out of taking responsibility for the crime,” Hopper said.
Hopper says it’s very common for victims to have spotty memories of traumatic events, because of the way memories are stored. “For traumatic memories, sometimes people have a bunch of details that were central and significant at the time that get burned in,” said Hopper, who often reviews transcripts of police interviews of victims in his role as an expert witness in criminal and civil cases. “When it comes to years later, recalling the context of the event—How old was I? What else was going on for my life at the time?—typically we try to reconstruct that stuff.”
The city subpoenaed Lauzon’s therapy records, which made him feel exposed, he said, and led him to leave therapy.
Hopper says that subpoenaing therapy records can be a deliberate intimidation tactic used against victims of sexual abuse. “They’re basically saying, ‘We’re really going to attack you, use any vulnerability we can find against you, and make you suffer even more, if you continue pursuing this case,’” he said.
Lauzon, who is now in law school, hopes to use his degree to fight for survivors of sexual assault. He thinks back to the death of his father in 2005, the moment when the memories of the abuse that he had stuffed down came roaring back to the surface. “I remember learning he died, and I was starting to drive home and I had this thought,” he said. “He’s dead now, and now he can see all of this. I felt like he would be really ashamed.”
Part of the shame was feeling like he somehow allowed the abuse to happen, and part of it was wishing he had done more to stop other boys from being abused. “That’s why it became such a focus of mine,” he said.
That focus has been relentless, to Lauzon’s own detriment at times. Before Lauzon filed the lawsuit, he and his then-fiancée took a trip to Puerto Rico. They would break up not long afterward. He had been in therapy, working through what had happened to him, and their relationship was struggling under the weight of his decision to come forward.
Lauzon said he was unable to enjoy the trip because he was consumed with thoughts of the abuse. Alone in his hotel room while his fiancée was on the beach, he found Dodd’s contact information online. He dialed his number. “All I wanted was for him to say sorry,” he said.
“I called and I said, ‘Is this Steve?’ and he said, ‘This is Steve.’ I said, ‘This is Matt Lauzon, I’m calling because I have been thinking a lot about what happened, and I want to give you a chance to apologize.’”
He heard a click on the line. Dodd had hung up.