Home Fire News Fire captain quits citing ‘no action’ on assault claims by police officer

Fire captain quits citing ‘no action’ on assault claims by police officer

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An Epsom fire captain publicly resigned from his post at a select board meeting Monday night, citing “mismanagement” by fire Chief R. Stewart Yeaton regarding sexual harassment claims and other matters.

Matthew Moulton’s resignation is tied to a 2015 lawsuit filed against the town and Epsom police officer Brian Michael by Richard Bilodeau, a firefighter and the town’s emergency management director.

In the suit filed in Merrimack County Superior Court, Bilodeau alleges that town employees and officials, including police Chief Wayne Preve and Yeaton, retaliated against him after he reported repeated incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault by Michael. The suit said most of the incidents took place in 2010.

Town officials deny the allegations but acknowledged that Bilodeau’s original harassment complaint was investigated by the county sheriff’s department and that Michael was forced to apologize for his conduct. Bilodeau claims that’s when the retaliation began. He claims that he was denied training opportunities and called names. In addition, he claims police officers stopped responding to his calls in the field.

An attorney for Michael denied that any sexual assault took place and described his client’s actions as “good natured banter,” according to prior Monitor reports.

Michael has asked a judge to dismiss the case against him. Both the town and Bilodeau have asked for a jury trial, and jury selection is scheduled for later this summer.

Bilodeau and Michael are still employed by the town. Michael is now a police lieutenant.

In a sworn affidavit filed with the court in October 2016, Moulton supported Bilodeau’s claims, writing that he had witnessed some of the incidents Bilodeau claimed.

“On another occasion, I observed Michael grab at Rick’s crotch several times. I told Michael that Rick doesn’t like that and to stop, but he laughed and kept going, telling him how pretty he was and grabbed him again,” Moulton wrote in the affidavit. “Chief Preve was standing there.”

Moulton also wrote that police appeared less willing to cooperate with the fire department since Bilodeau’s complaints.

“Since Rick reported the sexual harassment and the investigation occurred, the Epsom police usually do not come to our fire calls, although occasionally Chief Preve comes to some of the medical calls. This occurs even when the police are sitting down at the traffic circle,” he wrote.

Moulton stood up to read his resignation letter at the start of Monday’s meeting, but was cut off early by select board Chairman Don Harty, who told Moulton he was free to criticize the board in public, but couldn’t accuse someone else of wrongdoing in an open session.

“If you’re going to be talking about the reputation of somebody else, I’m going to have to hold you or go into nonpublic (session),” he said.

Vice Chairman Hugh Curley agreed, saying he thought the law required that whoever was being disparaged needed to agree to an open session before the discussion could continue before the public.

“I’m saying that’s what I think the reading of the law is. We might need to check that before we go forward,” Curley said.

But Moulton said an attorney had told him he was within his rights to finish his statement. When board members insisted he either wait for them to consult their attorney or narrow his comments, Moulton ended the conversation.

“Then, I’ll just do this instead. Here, can you please put that in the newspaper, please?” Moulton said, handing his resignation letter to a reporter before leaving the room.

On his way out, he added: “I’m out of here. My radios are right there. I resign from the fire department, and we will be in touch.”

Many, though not all, of Moulton’s complaints in his resignation letter appear connected to Bilodeau’s suit. He writes that “no action was taken” after “sexual harassment issues between a police officer and firefighter” were reported to Yeaton. The letter also describes an “assault” where Yeaton “slapped a firefighter in the head.” Both Moulton and Bilodeau filed affidavits in the suit alleging that Yeaton had slapped Bilodeau in front of others at a training.

“All my administrative duties have been taken from me, and therefore I am unable to fulfill my job as the Captain of the Epsom Fire Department. I wish the towns people all the best. It is with great sadness that I am letting you know of my resignation,” Moulton wrote in his one-paragraph resignation letter.

The select board voted to accept Moulton’s resignation and thanked him for his service after briefly recessing into a nonpublic session.

Harty declined to comment, citing pending litigation. Yeaton could not be reached by press time.

State Rep. John Klose, an Epsom Republican, was at the meeting Monday. He said he’d asked the attorney general to investigate the matter after reading the lawsuit.

“Terrible. Terrible. Typical small town. Action should have been taken immediately,” he said.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)

© Copyright, 2017, Concord Monitor

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