A federal judge has sided with the city of Biddeford and its police chief in a sex abuse lawsuit, saying the accuser “buried his head in the sand” by not raising his claims sooner.

Judge Lance Walker, photographed in 2016 Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

Matt Lauzon, who grew up in Biddeford, first made public accusations against former police officer Stephen Dodd more than four years ago. In 2015, he said Dodd sexually assaulted him years before, when Lauzon was a teenager and Dodd was a patrol officer. After Lauzon shared his story, other men came forward with similar accusations against Dodd and another former Biddeford officer. The alleged victims claimed Biddeford Chief Roger Beaupre knew about the abuse but did nothing to stop it.

Lauzon sued Dodd, Beaupre and the city in state court. The case was moved to federal court in 2016. More than three years later, U.S. District Judge Lance Walker granted a motion Tuesday for summary judgment by the city and the chief, deciding the case in their favor without a trial.

Walker said the lawsuit against the city and the chief is barred by the statute of limitations for civil rights claims, which in Maine is six years. He said Lauzon knew Dodd was a Biddeford police officer and investigated his legal options years earlier. Lauzon argued he was not aware until 2014 that the city and the chief knew about similar allegations against Dodd, so he should be able to bring his lawsuit despite the timing.

“Plaintiff did not exercise reasonable diligence in pursuing his claim,” Walker wrote in his 17-page order. “The facts underlying his claims against the City of Biddeford and Chief Beaupre were not inherently unknowable and yet, for his own personal and perhaps understandable reasons, Plaintiff buried his head in the sand. This choice was his to make but it does not obviate the statute of limitations.”

The city and the chief released a statement in response to the judge’s decision.

“We continue to maintain that the City of Biddeford and Chief Beaupre conducted themselves appropriately and in accordance with the law at all times and are therefore grateful the lawsuit has been dismissed. We do not condone sexual misconduct of any kind and encourage all victims of sexual abuse to seek assistance and report any violation that was committed against them,” the statement said.

Attorney Walter McKee, who represents Lauzon and two other plaintiffs in similar cases, said they will likely appeal.

“The court in essence said that Matt was supposed to investigate the chief’s involvement years ago, when it was something Matt had no idea about in the first place,” McKee wrote in an email. “Matt had no idea until 2014 that the chief knew about Dodd’s prior sexual abuse of other victims. As soon as Matt found out, he filed suit. This decision says that a sexual abuse survivor has to know the unknowable, which is troubling.”

Lauzon wrote in an email that the decision made him feel “an indescribable weight.” He said he wanted a trial for a transparent judicial process, and he felt the police chief should have been committed to that as well.

“I felt sadness because it made me feel like this may also happen to other survivors trying to hold perpetrators and enablers accountable,” he wrote. “I also felt an overwhelming sense of shame that I was too broken and weak to speak up and help make sure others don’t experience what I did. This is an especially dark place for me, because it feels like a decision like this is telling survivors it is their fault they are so broken and wait so long to come forward.”

He said the judge’s comment about burying “his head in the sand” was particularly hurtful. He said he hopes the federal appeals court will rethink the statute of limitations that put an end to the case in the lower court.

“Frankly, maybe this will turn into a gift for survivors everywhere,” Lauzon wrote. “If the (1st Circuit Court of Appeals) decides to address this clearly and unequivocally, that would help foster so much ongoing healing for survivors.”

Michael E. Saucier, an attorney from the Kennebunk law firm Libby, O’Brien, Kingsley and Champion, represented the city and the chief in this case. He said the statute of limitations in Maine for civil rights claims – six years – is longer than in some other states.

“By creating a date certain by which people must file their lawsuits, the limitations seek to avoid the loss of witnesses through death or disability, and there were certainly deaths of people who were told had relevant information,” Saucier said. “The statute seeks to avoid the loss of exhibits through inadvertent destruction or misplacement as the passage of time, and again, there were documents that were not available to us.”

Lauzon’s case against Dodd is still pending and could go to trial. Maine law does not impose a statute of limitations for civil claims related to sexual acts toward minors. 

In court documents, the former police officer said the two had a sexual encounter when Lauzon was 16, which is the age of consent in Maine. He has denied the accusations of sexual assault.

Court records list an address for Dodd in Florida. Reached by phone Wednesday, he said he had no comment on the case. He referred questions to his attorney, who did not return a voicemail seeking comment Wednesday. 

The judge’s decision details a history of investigations into Dodd for allegations of sexual misconduct and social media use dating back three decades.

Walker wrote that the Maine State Police investigated an allegation of sexual abuse by a foster child in 1989, which did not result in criminal charges but did remove Dodd from the list of foster parents. In 2001, the FBI investigated Dodd for his social media use, but took no action. The following year, the Maine Attorney General’s Office investigated another claim that Dodd sexually abused minors. Even though the prosecutors decided not to charge him, the judge said they uncovered evidence of other sexual misconduct. The chief suspended Dodd in 2002, and Dodd left the department in 2003. The Attorney General’s Office again investigated in 2015 when Lauzon made his allegations, but declined to file criminal charges. 

Three similar lawsuits are pending in federal court, but the city is no longer involved in one of them.

Bertrand Girard alleged in his complaint that Dodd sexually assaulted him from 1977 to 1982. He agreed this year to dismiss the claims against the city and Beaupre with prejudice, which means he cannot bring forth the same claims again in the future. His case against Dodd also is still pending.

Two other men have filed similar lawsuits against former Biddeford officer Norman Gaudette, and those complaints also name the police chief and the city. McKee also is representing those plaintiffs, and he said it is unclear what impact this ruling will have on those pending cases. The Attorney General’s Office also investigated the allegations against Gaudette, but he was never charged with a crime.

Now 34, Lauzon soon will begin his second year at the University of Maine School of Law.

“While my career had been in business, when I began struggling to imagine myself having a future, I realized an unquestionable reason to live would be helping protect people via the law,” he wrote.

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