NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

March 7, 2013

State Bar clears ex-chief L'Esperance of allegations

By Angeljean Chiaramida
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALISBURY —Without taking any disciplinary action, the state’s Board of Bar Overseers recently closed the file concerning allegations of misconduct made against attorney and former Salisbury police Chief David L’Esperance.

The board’s decision helps to clear L’Esperance’s name in the legal community. He currently works as a lawyer.

Town Manager Neil Harrington notified the BBO of the L’Esperance controversy shortly after it broke in December 2010, when the former chief was accused of taking part in criminal activities, including exchanging drugs for sex. Notification came in the form of the January 2011 report, written by consultant and former Salem police Chief Robert St. Pierre, who was hired by Harrington to look into L’Esperance’s behavior while chief.

The report included allegations made by defendants interviewed by police after they were arrested for theft-related crimes. The report also included allegations brought against L’Esperance by his own officers. It accused L’Esperance with selling drugs for sex with known criminals, among other allegations.

Prosecutors did not charge L’Esperance, due to lack of evidence. However, the Salisbury Police Department brought unrelated theft charges, of which L’Esperance was acquitted in June 2012.

Written by Assistant Bar Counsel Sherri Gilmore, the letter noted that the BBO “reviewed and thoroughly investigated,” the allegations in the St. Pierre report prior to closing the case.

Gilmore wrote that the BBO didn’t believe any further investigation into the allegations of misconduct were warranted in light of the fact that L’Esperance was acquitted of all the criminal charges Salisbury police brought against him.

Gilmore also wrote that an arbitrator’s ruling that ordered Salisbury to rehire formerly fired police officer Mark Thomas also played a part in the BBO’s decision. The allegations that led to Thomas’ termination arose in January 2011 during the L’Esperance’s investigation.

According to Gilmore’s letter, Harrington had the right to appeal the BBO’s decision to close the case. Harrington said he did not file an appeal, but didn’t want to comment further on the BBO’s actions.

L’Esperance was pleased the BBO closed the case.

“As with other agencies who were sent copies of the St. Pierre report, the BBO decided not to take disciplinary action,” L’Esperance said. “It’s because the allegations in the report are baseless. The report isn’t factual.”

Along with the Board of Bar Overseers, Harrington sent copies of the final St. Pierre report to the FBI, the offices of both the state attorney general and Essex County district attorney. But no criminal charges have resulted from any of those agencies.

St. Pierre’s findings were released to the public in a 31-page report on Jan. 24, 2011. The report included damning statements St. Pierre took from the interviews with the criminal suspects who originally accused L’Esperance of engaging in criminal behavior. It also held allegations of administrative misconduct made against the former chief by a few Salisbury police officers and other community members.

The report blacked out the names of L’Esperance’s accusers, preventing any further investigation into the allegations. Attempts by The Daily News to obtain an unredacted copy of the report have been blocked by the town.

L’Esperance served as Salisbury’s police chief from April 2006 until early December 2010, most of the time with the full backing of Harrington and the Board of Selectmen. On Dec. 6, 2010, he was relieved of duty by Harrington after allegations surfaced. L’Esperance retired from law enforcement during St. Pierre’s investigation, effectively resigning his position.

L’Esperance believes that the St. Pierre investigation was “shoddy” and based on a predetermined investigative theory of guilt. According to L’Esperance, the allegations made against him came from a few Salisbury officers with an ax to grind and other untrustworthy witnesses with criminal pasts who had ulterior motives in making their claims.

Last December, L’Esperance put the town on notice that he may file a federal civil suit charging the community with damaging his reputation because of its handling of the allegations made against him.

According to state law, those intending to file lawsuits against a municipality must first send a presentment letter outlining their claims and the legal actions they intend to take. The municipality then has six months to respond in manners that include settlement, negotiations, compromise or denial.

L’Esperance said he does not believe the town has as yet responded to his attorney concerning the presentation letter.

Because the issue could involve pending litigation, Harrington refused to comment on the town’s current actions related to L’Esperance’s notice of intent to sue.