Seabrook fires two officers for Bergeron brutality
By MIKE LAWRENCE Union Leader Correspondent
Town authorities announced Wednesday that police officers Mark Richardson and Adam Laurent had been fired for their brutal actions following the November 2009 arrest of Michael Bergeron, then 19.
A report from an internal review of the Seabrook Police Department said officer Mark Richardson had about 125 pounds and 4 inches on Michael Bergeron, then 19, when Richardson slammed Bergeron into a wall inside Seabrook’s police station.
Bergeron was “stunned” and fell to the floor, the report states.
“It is reasonable to conclude ... that the amount of force used by officer Richardson to put Bergeron against the wall is well beyond the force needed” for defensive purposes, the report states.
Seabrook town authorities released the report Wednesday, when they announced in Seabrook’s town hall that Richardson and officer Adam Laurent had been fired for their excessive use of force after Bergeron’s arrest on Nov. 11, 2009.
A third officer, Keith Dietenhofer, was suspended for two days without pay; supervisory Lt. John Wasson has been demoted to patrolman, Town Manager Bill Manzi said.
Town authorities placed Richardson, Laurent and Dietenhofer on paid administrative leave shortly after the video was posted in January.
Richardson was indicted in April on one felony count of simple assault by an on-duty law enforcement officer. Town authorities changed his administrative leave to unpaid after the indictment.
Richardson appeared in Rockingham Superior Court on July 14 for a dispositional conference. Court staff said his pre-trial hearing is scheduled for Oct. 24, and jury selection for his trial could begin Nov. 3.
“It’s a relief,” Joyce Bergeron, Michael’s mother, said of the ruling Wednesday. “It restored my faith in the town.”
Seabrook Police Chief Lee Bitomske said the brutal incident “had been a dark cloud” over his department.
“I’m hoping as time moves on, that cloud lifts,” he said, adding that he’s reviewing department policies to prevent future uses of excessive force.
Bergeron, now 23, posted a YouTube video in January that showed Richardson slamming him into the wall after Bergeron had been arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated and drug possession.
Laurent is then seen pepper-spraying Bergeron while he’s on the floor.
Video of the incident:
The report states that Laurent pulled out his pepper spray as Richardson picked up Bergeron, who “was very unsteady on his feet.”
“Bergeron, with officer Richardson’s help, leaned against the wall for several seconds before falling back to the floor,” the report continues. “Officer Laurent immediately stepped between officers Richardson and Dietenhofer and sprayed Bergeron in the face with (pepper spray).”
Officers wrote in their police reports that Bergeron was aggressive and uncooperative that night.
Town selectmen contracted Municipal Resources of Meredith in April to conduct an independent investigation of the incident and the police department.
The report cited inflammatory images from the video.
“One of the aspects of the video that appeared on YouTube that has caused much comment is of officer Laurent just after he sprayed Bergeron,” it states. “Officer Laurent appears to be smiling and laughing as he at times looks at the wall-mounted security camera.
“In his interview, officer Laurent explained that his facial expressions are the result of a nervous reaction, a smirk, that he has had all of his life. However, his demeanor and posture at that time ... (do) not indicate that he seems nervous or stressed.”
Deputy Police Chief Mike Gallagher said Wednesday that the officers very likely knew they were being recorded.
“In the 25 years I’ve been there, every time I’ve walked down that hallway I was on camera and I was aware of that,” he said. “Every officer is aware of the camera.”
The report said Wasson, then a sergeant, arrived in the station after Bergeron had been released on bail. Wasson was told of the use of force and pepper spray but did little to follow up on the incident.
The report also notes that Joyce Bergeron said she attended high school with Wasson.
“Sgt. Wasson was told by Joyce Bergeron about her possession of a video depicting her son having the ‘crap beat out of him’ by three SPD officers and being maced by officer Laurent, who ‘smiled pretty for the camera.’ While Sgt. Wasson expressed interest in viewing the video, he never did, and apparently did not alert others in the chain of command as to what Joyce Bergeron told him,” the report states.
Michael Bergeron has a criminal record that dates to 2007. He was found guilty of both November 2009 charges in June 2010, and was sentenced to one to three years in state prison last month for breaking into a Hampton townhouse in August 2013 and taking two laptops.
Joyce Bergeron said the November 2009 brutality stayed in her son’s mind long after that night.
“It just really bothered him for all these years,” she said, adding that he posted the video “because he didn’t want somebody (else) to get hurt.”
She said the family had not discussed whether to bring a civil suit against the town.
“If and when they bring a suit, we’ll address it,” Joseph McKittrick, an attorney for Seabrook, said Wednesday.