September 7, 2013

Tampering complaint against Westbrook official dismissed

Prosecutors don't explain why Westbrook School Committee member Suzanne Joyce was indicted in the first place.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – Prosecutors have dismissed their case against Westbrook School Committee member Suzanne Joyce without explaining why she was indicted in May for allegedly tampering with the prosecution of a substitute teacher accused of sexually abusing a student.

click image to enlarge

Suzanne Joyce

2005 Staff File Photo

The lead prosecutor in the case, Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Ackerman, filed dismissal papers in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court on Thursday with a one-line, handwritten statement: "Witnesses have recanted."

Ackerman did not return a phone call seeking further explanation.

"I feel I never should have been charged with any of this. I still don't know why any of this came about," Joyce said in a phone interview Friday. "I'm very thankful that this case was dismissed. I'm relieved the DA did the right thing."

The case against her was brought by the District Attorney's Office. Westbrook police have said they did not investigate the case against Joyce, and she has confirmed that police never interviewed her in connection with the case.

Joyce, 51, was accused of a single misdemeanor count of obstructing the prosecution of Dereck Gilman, a former Westbrook special education technician accused of sexually abusing a then- 17-year-old student. Prosecutors said she made a phone call to Andrew Keirstead, another special education technician.

Late last month, Keirstead signed a sworn affidavit issued to the court that he never felt that Joyce had intimidated, meant to deceive or threatened him.

"Suzanne Joyce did not say anything to cause me not to cooperate with a law enforcement investigation, not did she imply that by virtue of her position and or standing in the community that I should not cooperate with any law enforcement investigation," Keirstead said in the affidavit, which accompanied a motion by Joyce's attorney to have the case dismissed.

Joyce's attorney, William Childs, has said previously that when Joyce made the phone call to Keirstead on Feb. 4, she didn't know Keirstead was involved in the case against Gilman.

Gilman, 25, of Westbrook, still faces two misdemeanor charges of unlawful sexual touching and sexual abuse of a minor. Jury selection in his trial is due to start Monday, according to court records.

Gilman's attorney, Peter Rodway, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Joyce has declined to describe the relationship between the teenager, Gilman and herself.

Although the case against Joyce was dismissed, she said Friday that she didn't feel that she prevailed.

"I don't think anyone won. The damage has been done," Joyce said.

Childs declined to comment on specifics of the case.

"In return for the state's dismissal of the case against Suzanne Joyce, I agreed not to call a press conference," Childs said.

Joyce said she feels an investigation should be conducted into why she was charged in the first place, but doesn't plan to take any legal action at this time.

"Right now I'm going to step back and enjoy the fact that this is over," she said.

Joyce is currently running unopposed for re-election to the school board. She said her party caucus picked her unanimously to be its candidate Thursday night.

"The support has been tremendous. Everyone has been wonderful and gone out of their way for me," Joyce said. "I'm very blessed. I'm blessed with my families and my friends."

While the case was pending against Joyce, other Westbrook town officials and friends rallied on her behalf, many making public statements of support to the media.

"I don't have enough fingers and toes for the number of people who said, 'Let me be your witness,"' Joyce said.

Childs said that if Joyce decides to file a defamation suit against those who brought the criminal case against her, he would not be handling the case.

"My office does not handle defamation cases. Consequently, if she would like to explore that we would refer her to an office that does," he said.

 

Scott Dolan can be contacted at: 791-6304 or at

sdolan@mainetoday.com

 

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