Sex Abuse Allegations in Biddeford Stir Emotional Debate
BIDDEFORD, Maine - Thursday evening, Biddeford residents will have a chance to speak their minds about sex abuse allegations involving former police officers. The allegations have sparked an emotional public battle that's lobbing complaints against city officials and police leaders.
Matt Lauzon, a tech entrepreneur in Massachusetts, says last October he decided that he wasn't going to keep his past a secret anymore. He got in touch with the Biddeford Police Department to officially report that, as a young teenager growing up in Biddeford in the 1990's, he had been sexually abused by a town police officer.
"They said that they would be packaging it up and they would be probably sending it to the AG's office," he says - meaning the state's attorney general, for further investigation.
Months passed. Lauzon says the investigation moved too slowly. By early 2015, he decided to push the issue, and posted about the complaint on Facebook. Once he did, his story of sexual abuse touched a nerve in the community. Lauzon heard from others who said that they too had been abused by police officers.
"It feels, from a lot of different angles, statistically impossible that at least one boy wasn't abused by at least one officer," Lauzon says. "And in my opinion, whoever the chief was at that time should have been fired."
Lauzon has called for Police Chief Roger Beaupre - who was in command when the alleged abuse happened in the 90's and early 2000's - to be suspended while the attorney general investigates claims. Lauzon also circulated emails to the news media criticizing police and city officials for failing to adequately pursue the allegations. He's even suggested that the mayor and the media ask explicit personal questions to the police chief.
The situation stirred an emotional public response at the last two City Council meetings. In this recording of the most recent meeting, provided by Portland TV station WMTW, alleged abuse victims and supporters erupt with calls for city leaders to resign. "Step down! Step down! Step down!"
"It's pitting neighbor against neighbor, and even family members are split over this, in terms of the conduct and how this thing is being done," says Mayor Alan Casavant. He says he had to strike the gavel and rule people out of order during City Council meetings, as comments were being targeted at specific individuals. "It's a fine line between freedom of speech and slander and libel," Casavant says. "So I have to protect the city's interests and the interests of employees."
The upcoming meeting on Thursday was prompted by a citizen petition. The goal, say supporters, is to give a broader opportunity for residents to speak about the abuse allegations. Casavant says he hopes it will be a chance for productive dialog, which he says has thus far been elusive.
"I'm worried, in many cases, especially dealing with the chief and deputy chief, that the community is focused on guilt before innocence," he says. "There's been no evidence to suggest, at least to my office, and the Attorney General's Office, that the Biddeford Police Department 15 or 20 years ago did anything wrong."
In 2002, the Attorney General's Office did investigate allegations of sexual abuse by former Officer Stephen Dodd, who is also Matt Lauzon's alleged abuser. Dodd was never charged, but he retired from the force in 2003, gave up his certification, and moved to Florida.
Lauzon says after hearing from others who say they had been abused, the issue is larger than just one case. "I actually care less about holding my abuser accountable than dealing with what I believe is a systemic problem here."
Lauzon agrees that the conversation between city officials and concerned residents has not been very productive to this point. But he says he's frustrated with the lack of assertiveness by city leaders, and says they probably see him as overly aggressive. But he says there's a reason for it. "I believe that if I don't push hard, that a fair investigation will never really happen."
Lauzon's attorney, Walter McKee, who is representing three other abuse victims, says the fact that Lauzon has been so public about the alleged abuse is helping to build a civil case in ways McKee never expected. "We've had people come forward that really never would have come forward - former officers, witnesses, and victims, in a way that you just never see in a typical case at all."
As for the outcome of Thursday night's meeting, Mayor Casavant says he worries the expectations may not match the legal realities of how the situation must be handled. A spokesman for the Attorney General's Office confirmed there is an open investigation into allegations of past sexual abuse in Biddeford.
The Biddeford Police Department declined to comment about a current investigation.