MACHIAS, Maine —- A woman who was arrested last week and charged with hitting Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith notified the sheriff Thursday that she plans to file a lawsuit against him claiming false arrest and imprisonment, and that Smith assaulted her and used excessive force.
Deborah Bousquet’s notice of intent to file a civil action against Smith also claims that he failed to follow policy and procedures which resulted in her being injured, that he intentionally inflicted emotional stress, and that he defamed and libeled Bousquet and interfered with her civil rights.
Bousquet, 41, of Trescott was charged with assault and failure to disperse in connection with an incident in Lubec on Oct. 9 involving a school bus and some allegedly unruly students. She is scheduled for an initial appearance in District Court on Nov. 4.
Bousquet claims she was in pain the next day and went to Down East Community Hospital in Machias and was diagnosed with a sprained neck and sprained left wrist, involving acute pain, along with multiple contusions on her knee, arms, wrists and head. The notice of intent indicates she will seek compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be determined.
Her version of last week’s school bus incident, as depicted in her notice and as prepared by her Machias attorney, Jeff Davidson, contrasts sharply with how Smith described it. She denies striking Smith and claims he manhandled her.
Bousquet further states that Smith “provided false and defamatory statements” about the incident to the Bangor Daily News which were published the same day.
Smith would not comment on the claims Thursday, citing the ongoing investigation.
Deputies were summoned shortly after 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9, initially because of a report of a fight on the bus, although it turned out to be a dispute over loud music, the sheriff said last week. The driver, taking students to Washington Academy in East Machias and Machias Memorial High School, had turned the bus around and stopped at the intersection of Routes 191 and 189 to call police.
Smith described the scene as “quite chaotic when I got there.” Some students had gotten off the bus through the rear emergency exit, others were walking in the road and still others had wandered off. Other students were lying on the ground, crying.
“Parents and children were everywhere,” Smith said earlier.
He told Bousquet to “back off” because he was trying to “defuse the situation,” but she refused to leave, he said. She called him several names and hit him in the head, said Smith, and he placed her under arrest.
Bousquet, a teacher at Lubec Elementary School, went to the scene after being called by her daughter, a student on the bus. Her daughter was upset and told Bousquet that the bus driver, Alba Briggs, was “freaking out,” according to Bousquet’s description of what happened in her notice of intent to sue. The bus driver slammed on the brakes, causing some students to be thrown to the floor. He was yelling at the children, swearing at them, threatening them with jail, and said that no one would be allowed off the bus, according to the notice.
Briggs declined to discuss Bousquet’s claims Thursday but said he was still employed by the Lubec school system as a bus driver.
Bousquet went to the scene and retrieved her daughter, who by then was off the bus and walking in the road. Bousquet attempted to get another student off the bus and says she had permission from the child’s mother.
When Smith arrived he had one hand on his gun, which was half out of its holster, according to Bousquet’s version of events. He screamed at several children standing outside the bus, using profanities, and ordered them down on the ground with their hands behind their heads. He stood over them, yelling and kicking their feet, according to Bousquet.
Bousquet says she told Smith to stop and swore at him. Smith said he was going to take her to jail, she claims, and grabbed her by the arms, spun her around, and dragged her to his vehicle with her arms held behind her back. According to Bousquet’s account, Smith ripped her daughter’s cellphone out of her hands, said, “You’re not recording this,” and threw it on the ground. Smith allegedly handcuffed Bousquet tightly, injuring her, and shoved her toward the back seat of his car, slamming her knee against the vehicle. She swore at him, and he reportedly responded by grabbing her hair and slamming her head against the side of the car twice.
Twelve parents and students have given written statements stating that Bousquet did not assault Smith and that Smith assaulted Bousquet and used excessive force, according to the notice of claim.
No students were charged in connection with the bus incident, Smith said in an email to the BDN on Thursday. He also stated in the email that no police report about the incident would be made available until the case has been adjudicated or it is released by the district attorney’s office.
On the same night the incident occurred, the Lubec school board voted to put a staffer on board the bus for the time being in order to monitor students.
James Underwood, superintendent of the district that includes the Lubec school, said Thursday he completed his investigation into the bus incident after interviewing more than 25 people, including 20 students. Some students were disciplined, but he declined to specify how many or in what way.
Asked if he took any personnel action relative to the bus driver, Underwood said, “Bus drivers have a tremendous amount of responsibility … and I support the bus driver.” He did not indicate if he took any personnel action and would not comment on it.
A staff person continues to ride on the bus to help monitor students, said Underwood.