, Newburyport, MA

December 14, 2012

Ex-chief accuses town of slander

Attorney seeking unspecified settlement from Salisbury

By Angeljean Chiaramida

---- — SALISBURY — Terming the scandal that brought down former police Chief David L’Esperance “a witch hunt,” attorney Richard W. Kendall said the consequences could be a court battle, but the town may also be able to avoid litigation.

“I would prefer this not be played out in the newspapers,” Kendall said yesterday. “I would hope that (Town Manager Neil) Harrington or the town’s attorney get in touch with me. I don’t see this matter having to become a lengthy trial.”

Last week, Kendall sent presentment letters to Harrington and the five selectmen, putting them on notice that L’Esperance may file a federal civil suit in six months that alleges his reputation was ruined and his state and federal civil rights violated because of the way the town handled allegations made against him, which led to his precipitous fall from grace two years ago.

The letters are required by state law whenever suits against municipalities are considered. The notice gives officials the chance to settle, negotiate, compromise or go to court. Kendall released the letter to The Daily News yesterday, saying it was public information and he had no objections to sharing it.

L’Esperance served as Salisbury’s police chief from April 2006 until early December 2010, mostly with the backing of his superiors. However, on Dec. 6, 2010, he was relieved of duty by Harrington after claims surfaced that he’d engaged in criminal behavior, including trading sex for drugs.

Brought by suspects interviewed by area police departments after arrests on theft charges, the allegations resulted in no charges being filed against L’Esperance. However, the scandal that arose caused L’Esperance to retire from police work, effectively resigning as Salisbury’s chief.

According to Kendall, L’Esperance was slandered and libeled because of the “negligent release” of a poorly researched report on the allegations brought against his client by the original accusers and others, including some members of the police department.

The scathing report released by the town on Jan. 24, 2011 was seriously flawed, Kendall said. He blames not only town officials, but the man Harrington hired to conduct the review and write the report, former Salem police Chief Robert St. Pierre.

Yesterday, Kendall said St. Pierre didn’t perform due diligence to ensure information in the report was true and accurate before he included it. The town’s alleged legal error, he said, was releasing such a report to the public.

St. Pierre never interviewed L’Esperance’s original accusers, Kendall claims, nor did he look into their credibility, but instead simply transferred what was said in interviews done by others into the report.

Kendall alleges St. Pierre also left out information that could have exonerated L’Esperance in some instances, while putting in the report only information that hurt L’Esperance.

Some of the St. Pierre report information that implied L’Esperance was dishonest was later repudiated by the follow-up McDougal report, Kendall argued. And unlike the St. Pierre report, the McDougal report was not released to the public immediately after its completion, he said, but only after The Daily News requested it.

Kendall’s letter claims that evidence in the case was “intentionally destroyed or spoiled by individuals acting individually in their capacity with the Town of Salisbury.”

Further, Kendall’s letter asserts that town “maliciously prosecuted” L’Esperance on separate theft-related felony charges months after the scandal broke. He said the town did so after allegedly being told not to do so by the Essex County district attorney’s office because of insufficient evidence. L’Esperance was found not guilty on all those theft-related charges, Kendall added in his letter.

The errors made while handling the L’Esperance case were “egregious” on many levels, Kendall said in yesterday’s interview.

“This story would not make just a good novel, it would make a five star-rated movie,” Kendall said. “This was nothing short of a witch hunt against Chief L’Esperance.”

Harrington said yesterday he was advised by the town’s attorney not to comment on the claims made in the presentation letter. However, selectmen and Harrington will meet with town counsel on Monday in a private session concerning this latest turn of events in the L’Esperance situation.