By Angeljean Chiarmida
---- — SEABROOK — Local police are postponing their internal affairs investigation into a 2009 alleged police brutality incident so not to interfere with criminal investigations being conducted by the FBI, N.H. Attorney General and U.S. Attorney’s offices.
According to Seabrook police Chief Lee Bitomske, state and federal investigators are delving into a Nov. 11, 2009, video taken by a police station camera showing a potential case of police brutality at the Seabrook Police Station. The video shows Seabrook resident Michael J. Bergeron Jr., 19 at the time, being slammed into the wall while being escorted down a hall by three officers after he was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated and drug possession.
The video, released on YouTube early last month, stunned the town, making local, state and national news cycles for days. It brought immediate response from state and federal officials, who promised to determine if criminal charges should be brought concerning police brutality and possible federal civil rights violations.
Last month, Bitomske and Deputy Chief Michael Gallagher promised outraged residents that the Seabrook Police Department would also conduct its own investigation to determine if any of the department’s own policies were violated by any officer involved. Gallagher is the department’s trained internal affairs investigator.
But yesterday, Bitomske said, he and Gallagher will take a step back while FBI agents and the AG’s personnel are interviewing witnesses.
“The Seabrook Police Department has agreed to delay the commencement of our investigation for a short period of time to allow investigators from the (New Hampshire office of the) U.S. Attorney and the New Hampshire Attorney General to complete their investigation,” Bitomske said.
The decision was made, he said, to ensure there is no confusion by potential witnesses as to whether they are required to be interviewed. In police internal affairs investigations, all police personnel are required to submit to interviews, Bitomske said, while they are not similarly required in state and federal investigations.
Bitomske has spoken with the FBI agents who have been on site conducting their portion of the investigation, as he has with those from the AG’s office, he said. He has offered his total cooperation, he said.
“Even though this (incident) happened four years ago, it’s like it happened four hours ago for us,” Bitomske said. “We’re taking this very seriously. I want the investigators to do a good job; after all, I called them.”
Depicting the incident as a “black mark” on the whole department, Bitomske asked those anxious for answers to be patient.
“Eventually people’s questions will be answered for the most part,” he said. “But sometimes things like this take longer than people want them to.”
As soon as the video became public, the officers involved, Mark Richardson, Adam Laurent and Keith Dietenhofer, were placed on paid administrative leave, which is still their current status.
The video shows Bergeron, who is not handcuffed, being held by the arm by Richardson, as he is walked down the corridor. Laurent and Dietenhofer walk alongside. At one point, Richardson throws Bergeron against the wall, where he hits his head and falls to the floor. Bergeron is hauled to his feet before falling again. Shortly after, Laurent administers what appears to be pepper spray. At various points, Laurent looks directly at the surveillance camera and smiles. The video has no sound.
At the time, Laurent and Richardson were veteran officers, but Dietenhofer had been with the police department for less than six months.
According to police reports of Bergeron’s arrest, he was described as uncooperative, verbally abusive, combative and hostile to police, as well as “an emotional roller coaster” during his detainment at the police station.
The request for the video footage of Bergeron’s arrest was made prior to Bergeron’s 2009 court appearance on the charges against him. The tape was released to Bergeron’s attorney prior to his court appearance four years ago.
The Daily News’ questions concerning who prepared the video and who may have seen it prior to its release were not answered by Town Manager Bill Manzi, stating that information is currently under investigation.
According to Seabrook personnel records, although now retired, Patrick Manthorn was the police chief at the time of the incident; he was on sick leave from mid-July to Nov. 20, 2009. His sick leave status at the time means that Bitomske, deputy chief at the time, was acting police chief in his absence.
The department’s duty roster indicates that then-Sgt. John Wasson was shift commander. Wasson currently holds the rank of lieutenant.