SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 4, 2012

Judge won't dismiss case against court clerk

BY JULIE MANGANIS STAFF WRITER
The Salem News

---- — PEABODY — Lawyers for Alison Desmond, an assistant clerk-magistrate at the Ipswich District Court, were unable yesterday to convince a judge to dismiss charges that she lied to police investigating two assaults, including one on a mentally disabled grocery store worker.

Salem attorney Marc Salinas had argued that there was not sufficient probable cause to charge Desmond with misleading investigators, suggesting that her initial statement to police was misconstrued, and that whatever she did or didn’t say didn’t matter anyway, because police already had suspects in mind.

Judge Stacey Fortes-White denied the motion at the end of a hearing in Peabody District Court yesterday morning.

“The number of different stories provided to law enforcement in each interview ... is, frankly, dizzying,” said Fortes-White, a judge specially assigned to the case because she has never worked with either Desmond or the other defendant in the case.

Desmond, 54, of Newburyport, was one of two Trial Court employees charged after the incidents, which took place in September of 2011. The other, a longtime court officer, David Vitale, 52, of Methuen, is also charged with lying to police.

The two, along with two younger men, Robert Barron and Ryan Nimblett, had been at the Newburyport Elks Club on the evening of Sept. 16. Desmond, a member, had signed them in, according to a police report.

Later, after spending some time in Desmond’s Storey Avenue condo, Vitale and the other men left in a cab. The cab didn’t go very far before there was an altercation with the driver.

Barron and Nimblett allegedly scuffled with the cabbie, then took off on foot as police arrived.

As they ran, they encountered a mentally disabled man walking and listening to music on what the pair apparently believed was a cell phone, which they demanded, police allege. When the man told them he had no cell phone, they beat him, threw him through a car window and then, claiming they had a gun pointed at him, ordered him to start walking away, according to police.

Meanwhile, Vitale had claimed not to know either of the men, and told Newburyport officers he’d never been to the city before and had just come from the Elks Club, police said. Police later found all of their names, along with Desmond’s, on a sign-in sheet there.

Desmond initially claimed she didn’t know any of the men. Later, she acknowledged that she did know Vitale, with whom she had worked at the court, and suggested police had gotten her initial statement wrong.

Eventually, in a fourth interview with the Newburyport police inspector, she said she now recalled having met Nimblett, the son of a local attorney, and provided that lawyer’s name to officers.

Nimblett remains wanted on a warrant.

Salinas argued yesterday that Desmond, who is legally blind, genuinely could not identify the other men that night.

But beyond that, Salinas argued, “How can that statement be misleading?” Because police already had the names of the other people in the cab that night, “it was essentially of no consequence.”

Prosecutor Christina Pujals Ronan argued that Desmond’s “story changes with each conversation.”

“At first she says she doesn’t know who any of them are,” said the prosecutor. Then, confronted with the Elks sign-in sheet, she claims she’d just met Nimblett and Barron outside the club.

Desmond acted with the intent to mislead police, in an effort to prevent the culprits from being found and arrested, Ronan argued.

Desmond, who as an assistant clerk earned $84,870 a year, will next try to suppress the statements she made to the police during those interviews. A hearing on that motion, as well as a motion by Vitale, who seeks to suppress statements he gave to police as well, is set for Dec. 3.

If convicted, both could lose their jobs. But Desmond, as a sworn clerk-magistrate, could also face the loss of her pension, say lawyers, because even though the statements were made while she was not working, clerk-magistrates, like judges, are sworn to uphold the law.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.