February 05. 2014 2:29PM

Ex-Salem police officer waives first court appearance in assault case

Union Leader Correspodnent

SALEM – A former Salem police officer charged with assaulting a Maine man following a motor vehicle pursuit has waived his first court appearance.

Joseph Freda, 33, entered a not guilty plea in 10th Circuit Court to two counts of simple assault by an on-duty law enforcement officer.

He also passed on having his Feb. 24 arraignment in district court, according to a notice filed by defense lawyer Donald Blaszka.

Freda faces up to two to five years in state prison for allegedly striking Thomas Templeton, 39, of York, Maine, while he was being arrested on Oct. 6.

The charges against Freda are misdemeanors, but carry enhanced penalties because the alleged assaults happened while he was working as a Salem police officer, according to court complaints filed by state prosecutors.

Salem Town Manager Keith Hickey terminated Freda from his job on Jan. 21.

An affidavit filed by N.H. Attorney General Investigator Richard Tracy said that at least 12 people were interviewed – including other police officers and Templeton himself – before an arrest warrant was sought for Freda.

The pursuit began about 1:50 a.m. on Oct. 6 when Windham police Sgt. Bryan Bliss began pursuing a black Jeep Cherokee driven by Templeton heading southbound on Interstate 93.

State Trooper Andrew Monaco became the lead vehicle in the pursuit as it neared Exit 2 in Salem. The Jeep was traveling  90 to 100 m.p.h. when it took Exit 1 in Salem and kept driving in the opposite lane of traffic along Veterans Memorial Parkway, according to court records.

Monaco was ordered to back down by his supervisor, but the pursuit was then picked up by Salem police officers as Templeton headed east onto Main Street, according to Tracy’s affidavit.

Templeton eventually stopped in the Nissan Car Dealership at 343 Main St. near the Massachusetts state line and hid in nearby brush. Monaco and Salem police Sgt. Marc Prescott arrested Templeton without incident, the affidavit said.

Monaco had escorted Templeton from the wooded area, but “at some point along the way” two Salem police officers assumed control of him. Monaco went on to speak with Prescott and Bliss about charges and the booking process, when he heard a commotion near his cruiser, Tracy said in the affidavit.

“Templeton reported that after he was taken into custody in the rear of the dealership, while handcuffed and being brought back to the area of the cruisers, he was struck twice on the top of his head with what he believes to be a flashlight by one of the officers at the scene,” Tracy said in the affidavit.

After being assaulted, Templeton said one of the officers continued to taunt him. While seated on the ground, that officer also stepped on Templeton’s hand, according to investigators.

Templeton, who was charged with reckless driving and disobeying a police officer, received five staples to his head to close his wounds. He remains held at the Rockingham County jail.

Freda apparently was worried about his interactions with Templeton the day after the pursuit, according to court records. Freda approached Monaco, the state trooper, “asking if he had anything to worry about,” while the two worked a construction detail along Interstate 93.

"Not wishing to engage Freda in conversation, Monaco told Freda 'no,'" Tracy wrote. State police forwarded the matter to the Attorney General's Office on Oct. 22.