BEVERLY — Beverly's police chief had a valid reason to Tweet the location of a woman in hiding, her son's day care, and other personal information during a manhunt for her alleged abuser, an attorney representing the chief argued on Thursday.
And, argued lawyer Thomas Donohue, Chief John LeLacheur did not violate a state law prohibiting public dissemination of reports of domestic abuse because, he said, the report was not in writing at the time.
The arguments came during a hearing Thursday in Lawrence Superior Court, where Donohue asked Judge Salim Tabit to dismiss an invasion of privacy lawsuit brought by the woman against LeLacheur last year.
Tabit took the matter under advisement following the hearing.
The suit stems from an incident in October 2017, when the woman went to Beverly police to report that her boyfriend — a man with a lengthy criminal record of violence — had threatened to kill her, her two children and their unborn child she was carrying.
She was immediately moved into a motel room and was able to obtain a restraining order.
In the course of searching for the suspect, police ordered lockdowns at Beverly High School and Beverly Hospital and put out bulletins to other law enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for the suspect.
One of those bulletins included the location of the motel where the woman was staying, the location of one child's day care and the pickup time, and the child's name.
LeLacheur used his Twitter account to share an image of that bulletin.
That, argued the woman's attorney, was a "serious and substantial invasion of privacy" that "placed both the plaintiff, her child and her unborn child in serious danger for no legitimate reason."
Sean LaPorta, who represents the woman, said the Tweet "served absolutely no public interest."
The Tweet, LaPorta also argues, was a violation of a 2014 amendment to state law that makes it illegal for police departments to disseminate reports of domestic abuse.
LeLacheur's attorney suggested the law did not apply in this case because it wasn't an official police report but simply "information" that had been conveyed to police.
Donohue said it would be a different matter if the chief had Tweeted out a police report.
"That cannot possibly be the correct reading of the statute," LaPorta said in response.
Even if a judge found that the information did invade the woman's privacy or violate the law, Donohue argued, LeLacheur is protected by common-law immunity, because there's no evidence it was done with any malice or that he acted in bad faith.
Donohue argued that the information was released in furtherance of efforts to locate and apprehend the suspect.
But if that is the case, argued LaPorta, the only reasonable inference to be drawn is that it was released as "bait" to draw the suspect to the woman or her child's location.
LaPorta also argued that the Tweet was outside the scope of LeLacheur's employment and because of that, he is not protected by any type of immunity.
Donahue acknowledged there is little legal precedent for the question. But he did point to a 2006 Supreme Judicial Court decision involving a secretary who worked at Salem State University.
She sued the school for invasion of privacy after learning that campus police had set up a hidden camera and a VCR in the office while investigating burglaries in 1995 — cameras that captured her changing clothing and applying ointment to a bad sunburn.
The SJC concluded that the investigators had been acting in good faith at the time and did not intend to violate her privacy.
Tabit did not indicate when he will issue a decision on the motion.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.