BRENTWOOD, N.H. — On Nov. 11, 2009, then 19-year-old Michael Bergeron spent about an hour at the Seabrook police station after his drunken-driving arrest.
During the past two days at the Rockingham Superior Court trial of the former police officer charged with assaulting him, both prosecutors and defense attorneys went through almost every minute of that hour.
From when he arrived after being arrested by officer David Hersey for drunken driving and the struggle over handcuffs, to footage of him flooding the cell, whipping toilet-soaked clothing at the officers, being uncooperative in the booking room, being slammed into a wall, and finally walking out of the station after his mother bailed him out, Bergeron was on display in the silent video.
It was the first time some of the witnesses had seen parts of the station’s surveillance camera video aside from the now well-viewed YouTube segment posted on Jan. 6, 2014, that launched the uproar over Bergeron’s treatment by fired Seabrook officer Mark Richardson.
The video that went viral last year was a tiny segment of Bergeron’s stay with police that November night nearly six years ago. It shows Seabrook resident Bergeron being held by the arm by Richardson with officer Keith Dietenhofer and former officer Adam Laurent walking beside him.
As Richardson walks Bergeron without handcuffs down the police station corridor, Richardson throws him against the wall, where he slams his head and falls to the floor. Bergeron is seen being hauled to his feet before falling again. Shortly after, Laurent administers pepper spray while Bergeron is still on the floor, behavior that got Laurent fired. At various points, Laurent can be seen smiling.
Assistant Attorneys General Jay McCormack and Geoffrey Ward believe there was no reason for Richardson to use the degree of force he did, no matter how much trouble Bergeron had been during his stay there because Bergeron didn’t exhibit “assaultive behavior” against the officers.
Admitting Bergeron was “mouthy ... obnoxious ... uncooperative ... and being a jerk” from the moment officer David Hersey arrested him, McCormack told the jury that legally it didn’t matter.
The skinny, verbally abusive Bergeron didn’t get physically abusive with officers that night, McCormack said. He may have called them names, cursed them, even threatened to fight with them following his discharge, but he never attempted to hurt them, McCormack tried to prove using the video during his examination of Laurent and Dietenhofer at yesterday’s trial.
Defense attorneys Gary Nolan and Peter Perroni used most of the same footage in their attempt to prove just the opposite. From the moment he was arrested, the video illustrates Bergeron acted in an aggressive fashion that gave Richardson the impression he was a threat, they contended.
Initially, Bergeron slipped his feet through his handcuffed hands, bringing them from behind his back to in front of him in the cruiser following his arrest, according to Hersey’s testimony Tuesday, and spent the ride back kicking the partition between the front and back seats.
Yesterday, Dietenhofer confirmed that while he was at the station during Bergeron’s time there, the youth caused nothing but trouble. He was yelling so loud in the cell that Dietenhofer and Richardson went to help Hersey without having to be asked.
On two following occasions, Dietenhofer said he headed back to the cell after the dispatcher broadcast that Bergeron was stuffing his clothes down the toilet in an attempt to flood the cell. Officers dealt with that — taking all his clothing except his boxer shorts — then the dispatcher again broadcast that Bergeron was spitting in the cell.
All the while, he kept up a loud and steady stream of obscene language and taunts, defaming police officers by calling them “(expletive deleted) pigs,” and threatening them bodily harm when he got out of jail.
Dietenhofer also said he’d heard Bergeron had “fought” with Hersey in the station garage sally port, when the officer attempted to re-cuff his hands behind his back. Dietenhofer also said from what he witnessed, Bergeron dug in his heels, failed to walk forward and attempted to turn around during his walk down the hallway with Richardson. Dietenhofer said at the time, he thought Bergeron was turning in an attempt “to spit at me.”
Through their questions of Dietenhofer and Laurent, Perroni and Nolan raised the concept that a detainee’s behavior while in custody is used by officers to determine the threat level they pose.
Bergeron’s hostile behavior that night, the slipping of the handcuffs, the alleged tussles with Hersey in the sally port and cell, repeated announcements by the dispatcher of his disruptive behavior and spitting, his yelling and threatening could all go to build an impression in a police officer’s mind of the threat level Bergeron might pose to officers involved with him that night, Perroni and Nolan proposed.
In his opening statement on Tuesday, Perroni said that it was Bergeron’s behavior that whole night that was in Richardson’s mind when he acted as he did in the hallway. The result was Richardson’s attempt to control the prisoner by use of an “arm bar” that ended up with Bergeron “going into the wall in a way (Richardson) did not intend.”
When Shirley Bergeron took the stand as a witness for the state, she told prosecutors that when she arrived at the station to bail out her son, she could hear him yelling and screaming from the pepper spray’s effect as soon as she entered the door. As she was waiting for him, she told the court, the sound of her son’s screams caused her to be “afraid.”
But when Nolan played a video of Shirley Bergeron while at the police station, her distress and fear were not overtly apparent.
The video, which Shirley Bergeron hadn’t seen previously, shows her entering the station while speaking on her cellphone. She enters the waiting room without stopping, sits down, all the while chatting on the cellphone without stopping. The expression on her face remains unchanged throughout.
Shirley Bergeron said her son had a broken toe, a bump on his head and bruises on his ear and neck from his treatment by police that night. But when asked by Nolan if she took him to the hospital or doctor to address these wounds, she said she did not.
The trial continues today at 10 a.m. at Rockingham Superior Court.