SALEM — An early-morning, high-speed chase last fall ended with an arrest and the potential end of a Salem police officer’s career.
Officer Joseph Freda, 33, faces two misdemeanor assault charges, brought more than three months after the incident.
Documents filed in 10th Circuit Court in Salem yesterday detail the investigation that resulted in those charges by the Attorney General’s Office.
A six-page application for an arrest warrant against Freda outlines in detail the sequence of events that led to the alleged assault and some of the dozen or so interviews conducted by Richard Tracy, chief investigator for the Attorney General’s Office.
Eight police officers, including Freda, are mentioned in the filing, including one state trooper and seven Salem officers. Six of those officers were at the scene of the arrest last fall. A Salem firefighter who responded also was interviewed.
It started just before 2 a.m. Oct. 6 when N.H. State Police Trooper Andrew Monaco heard a radio report of a high-speed chase on Interstate 93 south.
Windham police Sgt. Bryan Bliss was in pursuit of a Jeep Cherokee. Monaco took over as the lead pursuit vehicle near Exit 2. He reported the Jeep was going 90 mph to 100 mph. The Jeep got off the highway at Exit 1, speeding down Veterans Memorial Parkway, according to the report.
Monaco was advised to back down. The Jeep eventually turned on to Main Street, where Salem police Sgt. Marc Prescott took over pursuit.
The chase ended when the Jeep pulled into the lot at Salem Nissan at 343 Main St. and the driver, later identified as Thomas Templeton, 39, jumped out and ran behind the dealership.
Monaco and Prescott found Templeton hiding in the brush and took him into custody without incident.
Those two officers were escorting a now handcuffed Templeton to the front of the car dealership when two more Salem officers arrived and took custody of him, Tracy wrote.
Officers report seeing blood
Monaco, Prescott and Bliss were talking about the charges when Monaco said he “heard a commotion,” the report states.
He found Templeton, still handcuffed, on the ground near the side of his own cruiser. Monaco said Templeton was bleeding, there was blood on the ground and more blood on the side of his cruiser.
Templeton said he had been hit in the groin and in the head with a flashlight, Monaco told the investigator.
Salem police Officer Argenis Gomez, in an interview with Tracy, reported he arrived at the car dealership, as did Freda, after Templeton was in custody. He described Templeton as going “limp” and said he helped hold the suspect upright.
As the three officers and Templeton were making their way to the cruisers, Freda joined the group, according to Tracy’s report.
Gomez told Tracy there was struggle between Freda and Templeton. He said he saw Freda’s elbow go up and come down, possibly during the execution of a “compliance strike.” But he said he couldn’t really see what happened, nor whether Freda was holding a flashlight, although he had seen one in his hand earlier.
After Prescott pointed out that Templeton was bleeding, Gomez reported, he noticed blood on Freda’s hand and forearm. He also said he saw blood on Freda’s flashlight, according to Tracy’s report of the interview.
Tracy also interviewed Salem Officer Robert Kirley, who also arrived at the scene after Templeton was in custody. He joined the group trying to get Templeton to the cruiser area. At one point, Kirley reportedly told the investigator, he saw Freda grab Templeton by the hair on top of his head.
Kirley also reported seeing blood on the cruiser and dripping from Templeton’s head. He reported Templeton accused Freda of hitting him, according to the report, and said Freda responded, “Yeah, I (expletive) hit you.”
Additionally, Kirley told Tracy that Freda walked behind the suspect and intentionally stepped on one of his hands, still in handcuffs.
Interviews detail what transpired
Yet another Salem officer gave Freda a ride to Parkland Medical Center in Derry that night. Officer Brian Routhier told the investigator he and Freda talked about the incident on the ride to Derry.
Freda told Routhier he had “whipped” the suspect with a flashlight, according to Tracy’s report.
A day or two later, according to Tracy’s filing, Officer Basil Chingros mentioned the incident to Freda and thanked him for not wrecking a cruiser. Chingros is in charge of fleet maintenance. Freda reportedly told Chingros he had “whacked” the suspect in the groin area.
Finally, Firefighter Mark Curtain told the investigator that when he was treating Templeton at the scene, the suspect indicated Freda had injured him.
Salem fire personnel transported Templeton to Parkland, where he got five staples for two cuts on his head.
While Monaco was at the hospital with Templeton, the trooper told the investigator, the suspect became “agitated” when Freda showed up at the hospital and said he was the one who had hit him.
Based on those interviews and seven others, Tracy wrote, there was probable cause to believe Freda committed simple assault by striking Templeton with a flashlight and stepping on his fingers.
More or upgraded charges possible
The charges against Freda are Class A misdemeanors, but they could carry enhanced punishment because he was an on-duty police officer at the time of the alleged assault.
The potential sentence for simple assault is up to a year in jail and/or a fine. But should Freda be convicted and a judge opt to impose enhanced punishment, he could face two to five years in jail on each of the two charges.
Assistant Attorney General Jane Young said yesterday she couldn’t comment on the case because the investigation is ongoing.
“Additional or upgraded charges are possible,” she said.
Freda was suspended with pay Oct. 23, Salem Deputy Chief Shawn Patten said, and the department began its own investigation. That internal investigation concluded last week and Freda was placed on unpaid leave.
A warrant for Freda’s arrest was issued Wednesday and he turned himself in at the Salem police station that afternoon.
He was released on $2,500 personal recognizance. He’s scheduled to be arraigned in 10th Circuit Court in Salem on Feb. 24.
An administrative hearing is set for next week. It is not open to the public.
Yesterday, Patten said he couldn’t comment, other than to reiterate that the department “doesn’t tolerate the use of excessive force from its officers.”
Freda joined the Salem force in the summer of 2012 after a stint with the Brookline Police Department. He is a graduate of Salem High School, where he was a standout wrestler and played football.