BIDDEFORD, Maine — As public outcry over alleged sexual abuse by former Biddeford police officers increases, Sen. David Dutremble, D-Biddeford, said Thursday he will consider proposing emergency legislation that would allow public officials to comment about ongoing criminal investigations.
On Tuesday, after a Biddeford City Council meeting where residents accused officers of abuse and called for the resignations of city officials as an investigation continues, city councilors passed a resolution requesting Dutremble’s assistance in proposing that legislation.
The requests come a week after the Maine attorney general’s office acknowledged an ongoing investigation of a former Biddeford police officer for possibly sexually abusing a boy in the 1990s.
The allegations first became public in April, when Matthew Lauzon, now of Massachusetts, said he was sexually abused by then-Biddeford police officer Stephen Dodd. Lauzon hired an attorney to conduct a civil investigation of the allegations and of the police department.
Another man, Rick Alexander of South Portland, told WMTW-TV, Portland’s ABC affiliate, in an interview he first was first sexually assaulted by Dodd behind his aunt’s house while in handcuffs. Alexander said he also filed a complaint with the state attorney general’s office in 2002.
Citing Maine’s confidentiality law, a representative of the attorney general’s office declined to comment on investigations into those allegations.
During a Biddeford City Council meeting after the allegations became public, several other people said they had been sexually assaulted as boys.
In a letter to Dutremble dated and released to the media Thursday, Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant, a former legislator, wrote, “Given the extraordinary nature of the present situation, we suggest that the emergency designation is entirely appropriate, and we will ask your legislative leaders to give every consideration to allowing you to file legislation under that designation.”
At this stage of the legislative session, the 10-member Legislative Council — made up of five Republican legislative leaders and five Democratic legislative leaders — would have to approve any submission of emergency legislation.
“Victims want quick responses, and I certainly understand why,” Casavant said in a release that accompanied the letter. “I’m totally sympathetic, and so is the council. Unfortunately the wheels of justice turn slowly, and in this case, agonizingly so. We are very hopeful that the Legislature, led by Sen. Dutremble, will pass this legislation and allow us to give these folks some answers.”
Dutremble said Thursday afternoon he had not seen the letter but had been told of the resolution following Tuesday’s council meeting. He said he is equally frustrated with the inability to get information, and that his staff is already investigating the existing law and possible changes.
“Everyone has said that, by law, they’re not allowed to comment. I would like to look at a possible change, as long as it doesn’t hamper an investigation,” Dutremble said. “I think there should be something people are allowed to say [such as], ‘Yes, there is an investigation going on.’ But I don’t think they should be able to give out details.”
Dutremble said he believes the allegations but acknowledged no charges have been filed.
“When you have multiple people coming out because of this one strong individual and all these people are saying, ‘you know what, it happened to me, too,’ it’s appalling to me,” he said. “I get a sickness in my stomach that this has gone on in the city that I love and [where I] work.”
Of public calls for Casavant, Biddeford Police Chief Roger P. Beaupre and Deputy Police Chief JoAnne Fisk to resign, Dutremble said, “if this has been going on that long, I have a hard time believing somebody did not know. Somebody within the organization should have known something.”
Citing an ongoing investigation, Fisk declined to comment Thursday evening.
Casavant said Thursday evening that Maine law regarding public comment by officials about an ongoing investigation is unusually stringent, and he hopes the Legislature will consider looking at laws in other states that might allow more information to be released. Casavant said he was not aware of any particular state’s law he would like to model.
“Maine, in my understanding, is unique in terms of that particular statute,” he said. “It becomes problematic, not just in terms of the way cities have to deal with questions and answers, but also in terms of victims. If a case is deemed open with no judgment, as we saw with two issues from 15 and 20 years ago, things linger forever and no one can get any information. … So in terms of closure, in terms of discussion, in terms of understanding the process, it’s critical that people have access to some additional information.”
Citing a May 1 letter from Attorney General Janet Mills, Casavant said it’s important for people to remember Mills’ office has yet to determine whether any charges should be filed.
Also on Tuesday, the Biddeford City Council passed a second resolution, asking Dutremble to propose emergency legislation that would create a state law prohibiting a sex offender from living within 750 feet of any school, playground or municipally owned park. Casavant said the council also asked the town attorney to draft such a city ordinance.
Dutremble argued Thursday that state law already allows a municipality to draft such an ordinance. He said that in drafting the resolution, the council was “just trying to pass the buck. I think they’re looking to try to refocus attention on other areas instead of taking leadership and doing what needs to be done.”
But Casavant said that while municipalities can pass their own ordinances, without uniformity throughout the state, a sex offender could just move from a town with such an ordinance to another town nearby without one.
“It seems everybody should be on the same page,” he said.
Of Dutremble’s comments, Casavant said, “we’re not dumping anything or trying to shift [blame] to anybody. We’re just saying that it’s very clear that much of the issues revolving around this particular case are fueled by some language within state law and some situations that were treated by state law. … I believe and the council believes very strongly that some assistance should come from the state.”
On Friday, Dutremble announced he would host a community discussion of the alleged abuse from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Richard J. Martin Community Center in Biddeford.