, Newburyport, MA

December 12, 2012

Salisbury on notice; L'Esperance takes first step in possible lawsuit

BY Angeljean Chiaramida

---- — SALISBURY — Former police Chief David L’Esperance has 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 allegations made against him two years ago.

Selectmen Jerry Klima and Donald Beaulieu confirmed this week they have received a “presentment letter,” but refused to comment further, referring questions to Town Manager Neil Harrington.

Harrington said because the letter relates to possible pending litigation brought by another party, he felt he could not release it to the public or comment on its specifics at this time.

However, the town manager said he will notify L’Esperance’s attorney, Richard Kendall, that the town has received a public records request for the letter from The Daily News and advise him the document will be released unless he objects on the grounds of a valid exemption allowed under the Freedom of Information Act.

Harrington intends to meet privately with the Board of Selectmen and town attorney to discuss the ramifications of the letter and appropriate strategy.

According to state law Chapter 258.4, 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.

If the town denies the claims brought in a presentment letter, it opens the way for the filing of a lawsuit to be dealt with through the court system, the law says.

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 that he had engaged in criminal behavior, including trading sex for drugs.

The allegations were brought by suspects who were being interviewed by area police departments after being arrested for theft-related crimes. No charges were ever brought against L’Esperance based on those allegations.

After placing L’Esperance on paid administrative leave, Harrington then hired retired Salem police Chief Robert St. Pierre and launched a review into the chief’s behavior during his tenure with the department.

On Jan. 18, 2011, before he could be interviewed by St. Pierre, L’Esperance, who is also an attorney, retired from police work, effectively resigning from his position as chief at the age of 50.

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 suspects who originally accused L’Esperance, as well as other scathing allegations of 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 by others. Attempts by The Daily News to obtain an unredacted copy of the report have been blocked by the town.

Upon reading the report, town officials openly expressed their dismay about its findings and their disappointment in L’Esperance’s alleged behavior.

Harrington sent copies of the final St. Pierre report to the state Board of Bar Overseers, 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.

In July 2011, however, Salisbury Police Department issued warrants for L’Esperance’s arrest, alleging he engaged in multiple, felony-level, theft-related activities while he was chief. L’Esperance was arraigned at Newburyport District Court on July 11, following his surrender to Salisbury police in the very police station he supervised for four years.

To prevent any appearance of conflict of interest since L’Esperance is well known by local court officials, his charges were transferred to Suffolk District Court.

After a three-day trial in Chelsea District Court, prosecuted by Suffolk County special prosecutor Benjamin Goldberger, L’Esperance was found not guilty on all six charges by Judge Benjamin Barnes on June 7, 2012.

Kendall did not return calls from The Daily News yesterday, and L’Esperance as yet has not commented on the presentment letter or what the lawsuit will entail.