A Mendon police officer whose lieutenant allegedly punched him and held a knife to his throat and groin while repeating, “Slash, slash, slash, slash,” has filed a discrimination complaint with the state saying he was targeted because he is gay.
“This was a very clear-cut case of discrimination based on sexual preference, and frankly, it’s about as egregious a situation as I can recall,” said attorney Timothy M. Burke, who represents 17-year department veteran Officer Edward “Chris” Bettencourt. “My client wants to ensure that nothing like this is done to anybody else.”
An attorney for the town described Lieutenant Donald Blanchette’s behavior as “inappropriate horseplay” and said it involved numerous people. It had nothing to do with Bettencourt’s sexuality, said Attorney Lenny Kesten, who spoke on behalf of the police and town. The sense of humor in a police station, he said, can be very different than in other professional settings.
“Waving a knife around, saying ‘Slash, slash ’ . . . it happens. It happens and people laugh, for the most part,” he said. “But this was offensive. He offended people. That’s why he suffered a very severe penalty.”
Blanchette was arrested on five charges including assault and battery with a dangerous weapon in October 2013, after an investigation by State Police found that he had allegedly repeatedly hit Bettencourt, as well as another officer, and threatened Bettencourt with the knife.
Blanchette admitted in August this year that there were sufficient facts for a jury to find him guilty, said Tim Connolly, a spokesman for the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office. The case was continued without a finding. Blanchette was placed on probation for 18 months and ordered to take anger management classes, Connolly said. He returned to work after a disciplinary hearing in September in which he was demoted two ranks, to patrolman, Kesten said.
The complaint, which Burke’s office said was filed in early November with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, names Blanchette as well as Chief Ernest Horn, the town of Mendon, and the Mendon Police department. It alleges that department and town officials knew what Blanchette was doing but did nothing to stop it.
But Kesten said the issue had been dealt with.
“This was fully vetted,” he said. “All these things were fully investigated by the District Attorney’s Office, by an investigator hired by the town. There were hearings before the selectmen. And the situation was resolved.”
He said Bettencourt had never before claimed the alleged abuse was motivated by his sexual orientation. And, he said, a group of officers complained about how Blanchette was behaving. Bettencourt, he said, was not singled out.
“Officer Bettencourt and his counsel are trying to make some money from this,” Kesten said. “They can’t claim they want answers because they have answers.”
The MCAD complaint is accompanied by a State Police report on Blanchette’s arrest and about 90 pages of interviews with 11 officers and dispatchers, many of whom described Blanchette hitting and threatening others without provocation. Some described it as horseplay, but others called him a “bully.”
“It wasn’t boys joking, no one was laughing. I used to be able to hear the sound of people getting punched, or the sound of the guys blocking a punch,” one dispatcher said in an interview cited in the complaint. “I can remember hearing [Complainant] Officer Bettencourt saying, ‘Stop it,’ or ‘Knock it off’ after I would hear the sound of a punch.”
The complaint alleges that since Bettencourt announced his sexual identity about four years ago, he has been harassed ever since.
Blanchette allegedly hit Bettencourt on the back of the legs with a “riding crop type device,” according to the complaint, and repeatedly struck Bettencourt in the breast in front of other officers “in an attempt to sexually embarrass and degrade” him.
According to the complaint, Blanchette regularly approached Bettencourt and said, “Head or gut?” He was asking whether Bettencourt wanted to be punched in the head or the gut, according to the complaint.
The complaint also alleges that Blanchette pointed a Taser at another officer he accused of reporting his behavior. Blanchette also told the officer he had a list of people he wanted to kill, according to the complaint.
The complaint alleges that Blanchette shut both Bettencourt and the other officer in jail cells in anger.
In June 2013, two officers reported Blanchette’s conduct to the State Police, according to the complaint and State Police documents.
In September 2013, Blanchette allegedly took a knife from another officer and backed Bettencourt into a corner, holding the knife to his throat and groin, making slashing motions and repeating the word “slash” again and again, according to the complaint and State Police interviews. Blanchette allegedly told Bettencourt he knew how to kill a man, according to the complaint, and demonstrated slicing his arteries.
“In all my years as a police officer, this is the most scared I have ever been, including all the calls that I have been on,” Bettencourt said in a State Police interview. Another officer told State Police he was prepared to shoot Blanchette if Blanchette drew Bettencourt’s blood.
After Blanchette was arrested in October 2013, he was placed on leave, but he has since returned to the department. The complaint says Bettencourt asked the town Board of Selectmen to terminate Blanchette, but Blanchette still works at the police department.
“There’s no place for this kind of conduct in law enforcement,” Burke said.Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen.