BIDDEFORD, Maine — The first time was in the police officer’s SUV, Matt Lauzon said, parked on a quiet dirt road that runs along one of the creeks that splinter off the Saco River.
Lauzon said he was not yet 16 when the officer, Stephen M. Dodd, lured him to the remote lane and sexually molested him — the first in a series of alleged assaults that spanned months.
Lauzon, now 30 and living in Boston, kept the secret for more than a decade. But when he finally went public last fall, he learned that he had not been alone in his suffering.
Emboldened, they say, by Lauzon’s courage, several other men have emerged to allege that Dodd molested and raped them. The revelations have roiled this rough-edged city 20 miles south of Portland, and raised questions about whether earlier complaints about Dodd should have cost him his badge — and perhaps his freedom — far sooner.
Interviews with victims and witnesses, and documents preserved over the decades paint a picture of prolonged abuse brought repeatedly to the attention of state and local authorities, who nevertheless waited months or perhaps years to suspend Dodd. Now 57, Dodd was a sergeant when he finally surrendered his law enforcement license and retired in July 2003 without ever facing charges.
The Maine attorney general’s office is investigating Dodd again, those who have been interviewed by investigators say. A spokesman for the office did not return a phone message, and has repeatedly declined to comment to local media.
Dodd’s last known address is in Florida; attempts to reach him were unsuccessful. A lawyer who represented Dodd in 2003, and filed a public records request with the city on his behalf this month, did not return a message left at his office.
“The state of Maine has let me down,” said Richard Alexander, a South Portland man who in April 2002 told investigators from the attorney general’s office that Dodd had repeatedly molested and raped him in the late 1970s. Sexual assault against a child has no statute of limitations in Maine.
“He got caught,” Alexander said. “But he didn’t get thrown in jail.”
Biddeford officials, including Police Chief Roger Beaupre, a fixture in the city for four decades, declined to discuss the allegations. Mayor Alan Casavant did not return e-mails requesting comment on the case.
For longtime residents here, the allegations echo earlier claims: In the 1990s, another Biddeford police officer, since-retired detective Norman Gaudette, was investigated for allegedly assaulting underage boys. In the wake of the current uproar, two Biddeford men have emerged with renewed accounts of alleged abuse by Gaudette, who was never charged.
“I was totally ashamed of my situation,” said Larry Ouellette, 43, who described being plied with alcohol during a night spent as a teenager in Gaudette’s camper, then awakening the next morning to find his underpants tainted and his body sore. Lauzon’s support, he said, helped him find the courage to speak up again.
In published reports at the time, Gaudette’s lawyer denied the charges, and Gaudette returned to work after the investigation ended without an indictment.
Lauzon’s decision to speak out, Ouellette said, helped him find the courage to go public with his allegations now.
“I’m supporting him, and he’s supporting me,” said Ouellette, who said he was prepared to testify against Gaudette in the 1990s but was never called to appear before a grand jury.
Attempts to contact Gaudette last week were unsuccessful. Messages left at his home were not returned.
“We’re seeing that for years, sexual abuse has been taking place in the Police Department and has been overlooked,” said Perry Aberle, who was a city councilor in Biddeford 22 years ago, when he was 18. A cook, he ran unsuccessfully for mayor in the last election, and announced last week that he plans to run again.
“There are some great police officers on the force,” Aberle said. “But living in the city my whole life, I’m starting to think that the Police Department is morally irresponsible.”
Lauzon said he was moved to finally come forward after reading a story about a fellow entrepreneur who was recovering from sexual abuse. As he began to plan his own nonprofit for victims of sexual assault, he said, “it felt irresponsible not to report what happened.”
He brought his allegations to the Maine State Police last fall, and was soon contacted by a Biddeford police detective, who interviewed him.
But Lauzon said he grew uncomfortable with the notion that the same department he held responsible for what happened to him was now investigating his allegations.
“I decided to post about Stephen Dodd on Facebook,” Lauzon said in a statement prepared for the Globe. “This is when things began to escalate, as I quickly heard from people that they were aware of similar allegations.”
Soon, he was at the center of an aggressive e-mail and social media campaign demanding a full and fair investigation into Dodd and the city’s police force.
In the months since, followers have plastered the Biddeford Police Department’s Facebook page, which typically boasts about arrests in break-ins and busts associated with the city’s ongoing heroin crisis, with demands for justice in Lauzon’s case.
Lauzon, working with Augusta lawyer Walter McKee, has launched a civil investigation.
“Our investigation may well parallel some of work that the attorney general’s office is undergoing,” McKee said in a statement on Lauzon’s case. “It will remain separate and independent, and in addition to gathering even more information about Dodd and any other perpetrators it will also focus on the entire Biddeford Police Department and what others knew or should have known was going on for many, many years.”
In the months that followed Lauzon’s initial public posts on Facebook, others shared similar stories of abuse by Dodd — including those who say this is not the first time Dodd’s alleged activities were brought to the attention of authorities.
John Drake was 16 and playing around on the Internet in the summer of 2001 when someone in a chat room— a user named SMD39, Drake said — sent a private message intended for Drake’s friend, Jonathan Clark, who was signed into the chat service: “Hey Biddeford boy,” the message read.
Drake said he played along.
“He starts saying, ‘Have you been with a guy yet?’ ” said Drake, now an EMT in South Portland.
Quickly, Drake said, he realized SMD39 was likely Stephen M. Dodd, whom he knew had a close relationship with Clark.
Seeking to confirm his suspicions, Drake agreed to meet SMD39 that night at a local restaurant. When he arrived, Dodd was waiting in a car outside the restaurant, Drake said. Without approaching Dodd, he said, he went home and told his father, then a US marshal.
The next day, Drake said, he was pulled out of class to be interviewed by two FBI agents, who had printouts of chat logs. Page by page, they went through the logs to identify the chats he had been involved in.
Clark did not return calls and text messages requesting a comment, but has discussed the case often on Facebook in recent weeks. There, he wrote that he was interviewed by the AG’s office in 2002, calling the meeting “the most humiliating experience of my life.”
Drake said Clark felt intimidated during the interview, and did not provide details about Dodd’s time with him. Clark renewed his allegations only after Lauzon came forward.
“I know I felt shame for so long for no reason, but I had to come out because I knew there had to be so many others out there that need redemption and real justice,” he wrote on Facebook last week. “Now that he doesn’t wear a badge anymore, he won’t be able to hide behind the blue curtain of silence.”
The case against Dodd did not begin or end with Clark. In April 2002, Alexander met with an investigator for the attorney general’s office and alleged a series of molestations and rapes by Dodd some 25 years earlier.
They culminated when Alexander was about 13 and Dodd, five years older, was a reserve police officer in nearby Old Orchard Beach. Investigative reports recounting Alexander’s interviews with the attorney general show Alexander alleging that Dodd forced oral sex on Alexander, then held him down on a bed while he raped the boy.
Alexander said it took decades of despair to reach the point where he was ready to discuss his ordeal.
Although Alexander’s initial interview with investigator Michael Pulire took place in April 2002 — and Drake’s account of Dodd’s activities online had been brought to the attention of authorities — Dodd continued as an active member of the Biddeford Police Department.
Only in November 2002 was Dodd suspended, Chief Beaupre last month told The Courier, an area weekly newspaper that has spent weeks reporting on accounts from men who say Dodd and Gaudette had abused them as boys. Beaupre declined to say last month why Dodd had been suspended.
The 2002 suspension came seven months after Alexander came forward, and a year and a half after Drake first brought Dodd’s online activities to the attention of investigators. Lauzon had by then put a stop to Dodd’s sexual assaults against him, but Dodd continued to torment and harass him during that period, Lauzon said, parking behind his house and flashing his cruiser’s lights.
Dodd’s suspension lasted until July 2003, when records show he retired, surrendering his certificate of eligibility from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. Alexander saved a copy of Dodd’s letter relinquishing the certificate, sent to him by the attorney general’s office in 2003. Dodd’s letter gave no reason for his retirement.
Beaupre declined to be interviewed for this story, and directed questions to Biddeford’s city attorney, Keith Jacque, who did not return e-mails last week. Neither man responded to a series of e-mailed questions about the period during which Dodd continued to serve despite the allegations against him.
Few public records detailing Dodd’s service have been released, but late in 2003, records obtained by Reporter David Charns at Portland television station WMTW show, Dodd came before Biddeford’s Police Commission.
There, the minutes recount, “citizen Stephen Dodd” complained that he had never received a retirement plaque.