SALISBURY — An investigator says that former Salisbury police Chief David L'Esperance exchanged drugs and money for sex with known criminals, falsified police records, improperly interfered in arrests and committed numerous other serious violations of his duty.
The damning 31-page report, released at a selectmen's meeting last night, states that L'Esperance violated 15 rules and regulations of the department and recommends that had he not recently retired, L'Esperance should have been fired "forthwith."
"And if the chief had not resigned, I would have taken that recommendation and terminated him immediately," Town Manager Neil Harrington said.
Harrington hired former Salem police Chief Robert St. Pierre to conduct the investigation into L'Esperance after allegations surfaced implicating him in possible criminal activities.
"Some of his actions are of such a serious nature that the town is forwarding the St. Pierre report to other law enforcement agencies for whatever action they deem appropriate," Harrington said.
L'Esperance, 50, who led the department since April 2006, was put on paid administrative leave and retired on the day that he was to be interviewed by St. Pierre.
Much of the report focuses on allegations that the chief exchanged drugs and money in return for sex. Three women in their 20s — at least two of whom had criminal records and/or drug addictions — made the claims. St. Pierre interviewed several other people who corroborated their stories.
One also alleged that L'Esperance said he would "take care of" three to four traffic tickets in exchange for sex. The woman reported that she had three sexual encounters with L'Esperance, including one in which a second woman participated.
In another case, a boyfriend of a woman reported that L'Esperance met them at the Old Fire Barn in Seabrook, where L'Esperance gave the woman Percocet pills hidden in a cigarette pack in exchange for a sexual favor the night before. The man also said he stole $230 worth of merchandise from the Seabrook Home Depot, returned it to the Hampton Home Depot and then sold the gift card to L'Esperance for $160.
One woman, who said she met L'Esperance shortly after his son's death, said she carried on a sexual relationship with him, during which he would pay her between $75 and $100. She would go to his home, where she would feel "trapped and intimidated," she said. The report says that occasionally, L'Esperance would give her money with no expectation of sex, and he also gave her two cars, a Ford Escort wagon and a Ford Taurus.
A 36-year-old woman with a "criminal history" stated that L'Esperance had attempted to sexually force himself upon her three times, and that the chief had "a habit of showing up unannounced at her house late at night." She also reported riding with L'Esperance in his maroon police cruiser as he drank a beer while driving.
The report paints a picture of a chief whom his own officers described as a "Jekyll and Hyde," a man who ran his department through "fear and intimidation."
Sgt. Richard Merrill was asked in the report if he ever confronted L'Esperance about his behavior, and he replied, "I never had a conversation on his behavior due to his reaction. I would know his reaction when you would try to tell him you didn't think something was ethical. And, when you wanted to say something on that way, he would start looking at you and start turning red, which you knew at that time to keep your mouth shut and more or less do what he said and that's the way the majority of things were ran along. Ethics is a large part and important part of police work is someone's integrity and some of the things that went on I believe most of the department knew some of the things were unethical."
Officers noted instances of L'Esperance "trophy hunting" during arrests. "Dave seems to want to take trophies everywhere he went, they weren't part of the arrest," officer Daniel McNeil said.
In one case, L'Esperance took a power drill, an extension cord and a bottle of Viagra from the car of a Lawrence man who had just been arrested, the report states. It says the man returned to the police department to retrieve them and was instead given $50 or $70 by Detective Mark Thomas.
In another case, an officer stated that L'Esperance came to the scene of a drug raid at the Driftwood Motel, and his "first question was, did we find any money." The officer produced a brown paper bag with money in it. "(L'Esperance) just came over and snatched it out of my right hand, turned around and walked down to his cruiser, got in the cruiser and I believe he drove to the police station."
The report states that in cases where money is found at crime scenes, it must be counted twice, and two officers must bring it to the station for proper storage. In yet another case, at an Amesbury arrest, L'Esperance asked an Amesbury officer to take a crystal skull and put it in his car. The officer didn't do it.
It also describes incidents in which L'Esperance allegedly interfered with justice, by asking his police prosecutors that "special consideration be given to certain individuals when court complaints or motor vehicle citation appeals were scheduled to be heard."
In one case, an officer recounted that he was ordered by L'Esperance to do a favor for a member of an unidentified family that was "well connected" to the chief, and who had made donations to the police department. The family member had been charged with malicious damage at the Chin-Chin Restaurant, and the officer said he was instructed to make sure the charges stayed at the clerk magistrate level, where hearings are held in nonpublic sessions.
In another case, an officer pulled over a woman who told the officer she knew L'Esperance. The woman called L'Esperance, and the officer said he was later asked by him to not issue the citation.
One officer said that he arrested a woman who had an outstanding warrant issued against her. But when he arrived at the police station, L'Esperance ordered her released, saying that the woman was a "good girl" and that her sister had falsely used her name. L'Esperance also ordered the officer to drive the woman to her home in Seabrook and said that she lived "right down the street from him."
Salisbury police had a long-standing, lengthy screening process for hiring dispatchers, which officers interviewed by St. Pierre said was scrapped by L'Esperance in 2009 or 2010. In its place, L'Esperance hired three young women in "what was reported to be 10-minute interviews with the chief in his office." One woman told officers the chief was a friend of her father and drank beer with him, the report says.
The report says that when that story circulated around the station, "the chief had an angry outburst, and then issued a long and terse e-mail to the entire department. The e-mail was the chief's attempt to refute the rumor and then chastise the department for spreading rumors."
One woman who was hired as a dispatcher said she was invited by L'Esperance to come to the department, where she said L'Esperance asked her if she had a drug problem, "and he could help her out and that 'nobody would have to know.'" She said she didn't have a drug problem and as she stood to leave, he stood "uncomfortably close" and hugged her.
The woman said that L'Esperance told her he could get her a job at the police department, but asked her not to tell anyone that he was helping her.
Fire Chief Richard Souliotis stated that L'Esperance "never acted life a chief and would often drink at La Chaquita Restaurant. Souliotis also said that L'Esperance had work done on his car at Souliotis' garage and tried to "get away with not paying the repairs, but did pay due to Souliotis 'tracking him down.'"
String of events
St. Pierre's report reveals that the original allegations of criminal activity and misconduct that started in late November were brought against L'Esperance by a number of individuals who themselves had been arrested for criminal activities and illegal drug use, in some instances in Salisbury, Seabrook and Kensington as well as in other area communities.
The arrests are related to those charged in a string of burglaries that began in August and ran throughout the fall, plaguing the region on both sides of the state line.
In his report, St. Pierre chronicles the time line, circumstances under which the arrested individuals made claims against L'Esperance, but withholds the names of those who have accused him. Allegations from these individuals include L'Esperance exchanging drug for sex, selling drugs, purchasing stolen gift cards from those who had stolen them.
According to St. Pierre's report, in mid-November, the Kensington police Chief contacted the FBI and N.H. Attorney General's office and provided them with the information obtained during that department's interview with at least one suspect in a burglary there.
For his report, St. Pierre conducted 44 interviews with private citizens, some of whom contacted the police and volunteered their statements and others who were approached by law enforcement, and 14 members of the Salisbury Police Department were also interviewed.
Additionally, department documents, such as payroll records, correspondence and phone records, were reviewed, and with the assistance of Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett's office, L'Esperance's cell phone was subpoenaed.
From his interviews, St. Pierre indicates the scope of his report grew to include four areas in which he believes L'Esperance crossed the line: inappropriate association with persons having a reputation for criminal behavior, interfering with the course of justice, violation of administrative practices and failure to properly provide for the care and custody of evidence and property.