, Salem, MA

June 7, 2013

Officer describes inappropriate contact, denies sexual assault


---- — SALEM — As their sons played a Wii game together across the room, Salem police Lt. Matthew Desmond testified, he and his wife’s friend, who had been baby-sitting in the Desmond home, quietly began touching each other.

“You look tired,” the woman told Desmond, as she started rubbing his knee, he told jurors. Then her hand was on his groin, he said. He had his hand on her leg, rubbing it, he said.

Desmond said the encounter on the afternoon of June 20 was just like others the pair had had over the past year, starting with a drunken flirtation on a “booze cruise.” They were encounters that, the suspended officer told jurors, he had sometimes felt bad about but also enjoyed.

“Then I see (her son) break his thousand-mile stare at the TV,” Desmond told jurors in Salem Superior Court, where he took the stand in his own defense yesterday against charges of rape and indecent assault and battery.

Closing arguments are scheduled for this morning.

Desmond told jurors that when he noticed the boy changing position, he pulled away and put his hand in his pocket, as she jumped up and announced to her son, “We’ve got to go.”

Desmond didn’t think the boy had seen anything, he testified under questioning by defense attorney Tom Drechsler.

But the woman, he said, was in a panic. “He’s going to tell,” Desmond quoted her as saying. She told Desmond they would have to tell their spouses before the boy said something.

“I don’t need this (expletive),” Desmond said he told her.

“Don’t put this on me,” the woman allegedly responded.

“It’s not my fault,” Desmond said he told her.

“She said, ‘We’ll see whose fault it is,’” Desmond testified. And then the woman was gone.

An hour later, Desmond said, the woman called. “She says, ‘You have to tell Suzanne,’” Desmond’s wife.

“I’m not going to tell her,” Desmond said he told her. “It’ll ruin my marriage.”

“If you’re not going to tell her, I will,” Desmond quoted her as responding.

It was the last time they would speak. Days later, he was under arrest.

The woman had told police that Desmond arrived home that afternoon and almost immediately touched her breast and then reached under her skirt to touch her genital area.

She testified on Wednesday that before that afternoon there had been no physical contact, no flirtation between the two, only that sudden and unwanted touching.

But yesterday, Desmond, his wife and family looking on, described multiple encounters in which the two engaged in inappropriate touching and sexually suggestive banter, and kissed each other.

It had started in the summer of 2011, on a “booze cruise,” as the two began talking on the crowded boat. Desmond and his wife, and the woman and her husband, had all gone on the cruise together.

“There was contact,” Desmond told jurors. “We talked, we flirted, we had a good time.”

Things heated up when the four went to Victoria Station after the cruise, he admitted in a matter-of-fact tone. The woman’s husband “doesn’t dance.” And the woman, not originally from Salem, knew few at the event, a fundraiser.

As Desmond’s wife chatted with longtime friends from Salem, Desmond and the woman danced together.

“For lack of a better term, it was dirty dancing,” he testified.

On the way home, the woman suggested the four go skinny dipping — something that the woman also acknowledged suggesting during her testimony.

But Desmond said he got more than just a look at his wife’s friend. At the Desmond home, naked in the pool, the woman reached over and touched his groin. He rubbed her back. And then their spouses showed up in the pool, he said.

A little while later, Desmond took the woman into his home to get a towel. There was more contact, and, he said, he touched her between the legs and on her chest. They kissed. Meanwhile, their spouses were still outside looking for a pair of eyeglasses.

Afterward, “I felt awful,” Desmond said. “I’m married, she’s married, there was a lot of alcohol involved.”

He said he kept his distance for a while. But a couple of weeks later, “she brushed up against me. ‘No kissing tonight,’” he said she told him. “I said, ‘Deal.’”

Over the next few months, the two would take advantage of brief moments alone to flirt and touch each other, he testified, at a get-together before a family trip in November, a Super Bowl party in February, and then on Valentine’s Day weekend, when the Desmonds went out to dinner with the other couple, and the woman played footsie with Desmond under the table, he testified.

There were several other encounters. Desmond said the two had “opened up something.” But he never intended to go any further. “She didn’t pursue me, I didn’t pursue her,” Desmond told the jury. “I was happily married and I assumed she was, too.”

Desmond did tell his wife a day later about the encounters, he told jurors.

Prosecutor Kate MacDougall tried to elicit testimony about another friend of the couple, but was cut off by an objection that was sustained by Judge Timothy Feeley.

The prosecutor also tried, unsuccessfully, to block the testimony of a friend of Desmond, Salem fire Lt. Keith Pelletier, who told jurors that in January 2012, six months before the alleged incident, Desmond had confided to him that the woman had been “coming on to him.”

One piece of the state’s case against Desmond may turn out to aid the defense. On Wednesday, the woman testified that Desmond was wearing a full uniform when he arrived home that afternoon.

“You are telling this jury that he walks in in full uniform,” Drechsler asked the woman.

“That’s my testimony,” she replied.

But a surveillance video from the Salem police station played for jurors showed Desmond wearing just a T-shirt and his uniform pants, with no utility belt, as he left the station minutes before the alleged incidents.

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