Report delays ex-chief's case

NewburyportNews.com, newburyportnews.com
BYLINE: Angeljean Chiaramida Staff writer
Link to Article

Salisbury, MA

L'Esperance's lawyer requests consultant's 'audit' of evidence room

CHELSEA — The theft case against former Salisbury police chief David L'Esperance has been continued to next month so both the prosecutor and defense attorney can obtain an independent report that indicates that no money, drugs or other evidence were taken from the Salisbury Police Department's evidence room improperly during his tenure.

The continuance was requested yesterday by L'Esperance's lawyer, Gerard LaFlamme Jr., and agreed to by Benjamin Goldberger, the Suffolk County special prosecutor handling the case since it was transferred from Essex County to eliminate the possibility of a conflict of interest.

The existence of the report came to the attention of LaFlamme on Thursday, when he read a story about it published in The Daily News, he said.

The report was written by independent consultant Bruce MacDougall, of Municipal Resources Inc. A retired police chief from Methuen, MacDougall was hired by the town of Salisbury to undertake a review of a number of issues after L'Esperance's departure last year under a cloud of misconduct allegations. MacDougall's review was conducted last summer and his report released to selectmen in October. The Daily News requested a copy of the report earlier this month.

Goldberger told Chelsea District Court Judge James Wexler that although he knew "an audit" of the evidence room was done, he didn't know of the MacDougall report until LaFlamme showed him the newspaper story in the courtroom that morning, right before court began.

LaFlamme said that the MacDougall report showed nothing was missing from the Salisbury evidence room.

"The allegations (in the theft charges) are that my client removed things from the evidence room," LaFlamme said. "Since the (Daily News) published (a story on it), I think my client is entitled to (a copy of the report)."

Goldberger told the judge that after reading the story that morning, he placed a call to the Salisbury Police Department to get a copy.

Wexler advised both Goldberger and LaFlamme that they may find it helpful to speak with Salisbury's town counsel to ensure that the case is not delayed further over similar instances.

"I'm stunned the (prosecutor) was not provided with a copy of the MacDougall report," LaFlamme said after the hearing concluded. "But it's a reflection on the attacks against Dave L'Esperance."

The MacDougall study's conclusions dispelled some of the accusations made against L'Esperance, 51, in a highly publicized report released last year. That 31-page report, written by Robert St. Pierre and released last January, accused L'Esperance of 15 violations of police policy for misconduct, such as mishandling evidence seized by police at drug busts, improperly granting favors, nepotism and trading drugs for sex with known criminals. The MacDougall report appears to clear L'Esperance of at least two accusations related to handling of evidence.

L'Esperance retired from the police department in January 2011, effectively resigning as Salisbury's chief, while the St. Pierre report was under way. Although no criminal charges have resulted from the allegations made against him in the St. Pierre report, he currently faces theft charges relating to his conduct while police chief.

The charges

The first set of theft charges were filed against L'Esperance in July, the result of evidence unearthed by two investigations, led by St. Pierre, into the department, both commissioned by the town of Salisbury. According to court documents, L'Esperance is charged with receiving stolen property, specifically a World War II-era detonator plunger device worth more than $250 (a felony) and a Hells Angels booklet worth less than $250 (a misdemeanor) from the former home of David Plonowski, 28 Pike St., Salisbury. Plonowski's home was raided in 2007 following a drug investigation.

A second felony count involves the alleged misappropriation of a 2001 Dodge Dakota pickup truck with 387,000 miles given to the town by local heavy construction company SPS New England in June 2010. According to court documents, L'Esperance picked up the truck and parked it at the Salisbury Fire Department for a few months, then in fall 2010, gave the truck to Bryan Fleming, owner of Honks Martin Road Salvage in Amesbury, who sold it. According to Salisbury Town Manager Neil Harrington, L'Esperance didn't have permission to give away the truck.

Dropped in the first set of charges was one misdemeanor charge of stealing $50 worth of tools from the car trunk of a Lawrence man who was arrested. According to Goldberger's motion to dismiss, the charge was dropped because of a lack of evidence.

On Dec. 23, L'Esperance was arraigned on a second set of theft-related charges filed by Salisbury. They include one count of larceny of property worth more than $250 (a plow) and two counts of larceny of a motor vehicle, a Chevrolet Tahoe SUV and Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The new charges again relate to the April 2007 raid and arrest at the Plonowski home.

The seizure took place after Plonowski's arrest, and the vehicles and plow were ordered taken and held by Simmie's Towing, Goldberger said at the arraignment. It was Plonowski's wife who told town officials that L'Esperance ordered the property seized, towed and held, Goldberger said. The property was never returned to Plonowski's wife, he added.

Salisbury police also filed a criminal complaint alleging that L'Esperance violated Plonowski's wife's civil rights over the seizures, but the clerk magistrate found insufficient probable cause to bring the complaint forward. Goldberger filed a motion to have the civil rights charge reviewed by a judge to possibly reinstate it. Wexler denied the Goldberger motion yesterday.

"I'm very happy Judge Wexler ruled as he did," LaFlamme said.

The Plonowski case

On April 9, 2007, after a five-month drug investigation by the Northeast Merrimack Valley Drug Task Force from Salisbury, Amesbury and Merrimack, police executed a warrant on the Pike Street home of David Plonowski on charges of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Police acted after neighbors reported a high level of traffic coming to and from the house. In addition, during a February 2007 domestic abuse case there, police noticed weapons in the home. Plonowski's firearms ID card had expired.

On the day of the raid, police broke down the front door, finding a little more than a half-ounce of cocaine, a loaded .22-caliber handgun and about $1,000 in cash. But as they searched, police found such a huge cache of weaponry that the State Police bomb squad was called, neighbors were evacuated and the area closed to traffic for hours.

Court records indicate that police found 241 unique and possibly antique pieces of weaponry, including ammunition, knives, swords, hand grenades, rifles, handguns, land mines and one 81 mm mortar shell. Drugs and drug paraphernalia were also found, according to court records.

Plonowski was immediately taken into custody and taken to the Salisbury police station. An unidentified woman with him was taken into protective custody because she was inebriated, but she was not charged.

Plonowski was charged with 36 counts. A year later, through a plea deal, all but three counts were dropped. He was convicted on two counts of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and carrying a firearm without a license. He was sentenced to two and a half to four years in state prison.

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