Biddeford Residents Vow to Pursue Allegations of Sex Abuse in Civil Court
BIDDEFORD, Maine - The Maine Attorney General's office has decided not to file criminal charges against a former Biddeford police officer accused of sexually abusing former city resident Matt Lauzon when Lauzon was a teenager.
The decision comes after months of public turmoil in Biddeford as other alleged victims of abuse have stepped forward and called for the City Council to take action against the police department. It may be "case closed" for the attorney general, but the issue appears to be far from over for many others.
The abuse allegations go back to the 90's, when Matt Lauzon was a teenager living in Biddeford. Lauzon alleges that former Biddeford police officer Stephen Dodd sexually abused him, as well as Biddeford resident Michael McKeown.
Lauzon didn't report the alleged abuse until October of last year, and Biddeford police handed the case to the Maine Attorney General's office. On Wednesday, Attorney General Janet Mills said in a statement 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."
"Still continue to be very disappointed in the decision that was made," says Walt McKee, an attorney for Matt Lauzon. "But I recognize that they're dealing with a criminal process, a criminal statute, and a criminal burden of proof, and that's very different from what we'll be doing in filing our civil lawsuit before the end of the year."
Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant says he had hoped the Attorney General's Office would provide more information about its investigation "because I think the people of Biddeford are hungry for information. I know the City Council and myself are hungry for information, because this has been so divisive for all of us over the last few months."
Matt Lauzon brought his allegations of sexual abuse into the public spotlight earlier this year when he started posting about them on social media. Other alleged abuse victims also came forward. And some called on the Biddeford City Council to put Police Chief Roger Beaupre on administrative leave. Beaupre was in charge at the time the alleged abuse took place.
Lauzon became increasingly vocal both online and at City Council meetings, sometimes accusing city officials of having sexual relationships with one another. A meeting on Aug. 10 adjourned after 20 minutes due to Lauzon's repeated outbursts. "Excuse me! Excuse me! Excuse me! Excuse me! You cannot hijack the meeting," Casavant told Lauzon at the meeting. "We have work to do."
Lauzon later apologized on Facebook for his outbursts. Melissa Bednarowski, a forder Biddeford city councilor and president of a new group dedicated to ending sexual abuse called Stand Up for ME, says some Biddeford residents are reeling from Attorney General Janet Mill's decision not to file charges in Lauzon's case.
"The response I've received so far is messages of, 'Oh my gosh, how could this happen? How could she not see? How can another case get thrown out?' " Bednarowski says.
Bednarowski says she and other supporters still want the City Council to put Police Chief Roger Beaupre on administrative leave. "We truly believe if and when they place the chief of police, Roger Beaupre, on paid administrative leave that more officers and witnesses and victims will feel more comfortable coming forward. And with that new information and those witnesses, we believe Janet Mills will find it necessary to reopen the case."
Mayor Alan Casavant says next Tuesday councilors will meet and discuss possible next steps, but says there's no proof of any wrongdoing by Chief Beaupre. "The attorney general, when I met with her several months ago, she was very clear and her staff was very clear that the Biddeford Police Department and Roger Beaupre did everything that was requested and went beyond what was requested," Casavant says.
But Matt Lauzon's attorney Walt McKee says he will continue to build a civil case against the police. "And among the claims would be the Biddeford Police Department's deliberate indifference to their own officers engaged in sexual abuse of minors over a long period of time and doing nothing to stop it."
McKee says he expects to file suit by the end of the year on behalf of Lauzon and at least two other alleged victims.