BY ANGELJEAN CHIARAMIDA
---- — SEABROOK, N.H. — In addition to criminal investigations launched by the state attorney general, the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Hampshire and the FBI, the Seabrook Police Department will soon begin its own investigation into an alleged 2009 police brutality incident depicted on a recently released video.
The announcement of the department’s internal investigation was made yesterday by Seabrook police Chief Lee Bitomske in response to inquiries made by The Daily News at the Board of Selectmen’s meeting. Bitomske said after the meeting that police Deputy Chief Michael Gallagher, who is also the internal affairs officer, will undertake the investigation.
“Deputy Chief Gallager will undertake an investigation to see if any of the department’s (internal) policies, rules and regulations were broken,” Bitomske said. “The findings will be brought to me. My department is also cooperating fully with the attorney general’s investigation.”
Bitomske said he could not comment further given the ongoing investigations being conducted by other agencies. He asked residents to be patient as all involved parties work to get to the bottom of the incident that has outraged many and become a black mark against the Seabrook Police Department.
Since early January, town officials have dealt with the repercussions from a YouTube video posted on the Internet that shows one of three patrolmen, officer Mark Richardson, slamming a young man’s head against a cement wall while inside Seabrook’s police station.
The video was taped on Nov. 11, 2009, by a monitoring camera within the police station’s cellblock. It depicted Michael J. Bergeron Jr., 19 at the time, being led down a hall by Richardson, while officers Adam Laurent and Keith Dietenhofer walk alongside. Bergeron, a Seabrook resident, had been arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated and drug possession.
Not handcuffed, one of Bergeron’s arms is held by Richardson, who then throws the detainee against the wall. Bergeron 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 audio.
According to police reports of Bergeron’s arrest, he is described as uncooperative, verbally abusive, combative and hostile to police, as well as “an emotional roller coaster” during his detainment at the police station.
At the time, Laurent and Richardson were veteran officers, although Dietenhofer had been with the police department for less than six months, according to Town Manager Bill Manzi.
The request for the video footage of Bergeron’s arrest was made prior to Bergeron’s court appearance on the charges against him and was released prior to his court appearance, Manzi said.
Questions as to who prepared the video and who may have seen it prior to its release were not answered by Manzi, who stated that information is currently under investigation by the attorney general.
Quickly after the video was made public, Richardson, Laurent and Dietenhofer were placed on paid administrative leave, where they remain, Manzi said yesterday. No other officers have been suspended since the scandal broke.
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, who had been 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 at the time of the Nov. 11, 2009, incident. Wasson currently holds the rank of lieutenant.
At the time, Barry Brenner was Seabrook’s town manager and selectmen were Robert Moore, Brendan Kelly and Aboul Khan.