Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Bettencourt v. Town of Mendon

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 26, 2018

EDWARD BETTENCOURT, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF MENDON, MENDON POLICE DEPARTMENT, CHIEF ERNEST HORN, and LIEUTENANT DONALD BLANCHETTE, Defendants.

          ORDER AND MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

          TIMOTHY S. HILLMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Background

          Edward Bettencourt (“Plaintiff” or “Bettencourt”) has filed suit against the Town of Mendon (“Town”), Mendon Police Department[1], Chief Ernest Horn (“Chief Horn”)[2] and Lieutenant Donald Blanchette (“Blanchette”, and together with the Town and Horn “Defendants”) asserting claims for violation of the Massachusetts Whistleblower Act, Mass.Gen.L. ch.149, § 185 (Count One-Town of Mendon); violation of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, Mass.Gen.L. ch. 12, §§ 11H, I (“MCRA”) (Count Two- Horn and Blanchette); Conspiracy (Count Three- Horn and Blanchette); Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (Count Four- Horn and Blanchette); violation of his federal civil rights under 42 U.S.C. §1983 (Count Five- Horn and Blanchette); sex and gender discrimination in violation of Mass.Gen.L. ch. 151B (“Chapter 151B”)(Counts Six and Seven- Horn and Blanchette), Retaliation in violation of Chapter 151B (Count Eight-all Defendants); assault and battery (Count Nine- Blanchette); and False Imprisonment (Count Ten- Blanchette). Chief Horn and Blanchette are being sued in their individual and official capacities.

         This Order addresses the following motions: Defendant, Lieutenant Blanchette's Partial Motion For Summary Judgment (Docket No. 30) and Defendant Town of Mendon, Mendon Police Department and Chief Ernest Horn's Motion For Summary Judgment (Docket No. 34). For the following reasons, the Defendants' motions for summary judgment are granted, in part, and denied, in part.

         Facts

         Bettencourt became employed by the Town as a police officer in November of 1997. While working, Bettencourt would socialize with Blanchette and frequently had coffee in Blanchette's office and they would joke around. Bettencourt, Officer Bruce Poirier (“Poirier”) and Blanchette would often buy each other coffee. There were several times that Blanchette would request that Bettencourt have lunch with him. Bettencourt did not enjoy these interactions, but tried to get along with Blanchette to “minimize abuse and to get along in the department.” In 2012, Bettencourt was choking on some Chinese food and Blanchette saved Bettencourt from choking.

         In 2008, Chief Horn began attending law school with permission from Mendon's Board of Selectmen who also helped pay some of his tuition. Chief Horn was routinely absent from the Mendon Police Department (“MPD”) until he graduated from law school in 2011/2012. While Chief Horn was in law school, Blanchette was the de facto Chief. Blanchette felt overworked as the result of having to cover for Chief Horn because he was doing payrolls, billing, running the shift, and attending meetings. He was handling such duties both for the fire department and the MPD. Basically, Chief Horn had handed the day to day operation do of the MPD over to Blanchette. In 2008, Blanchette told Bettencourt that “while Chief Horn was attending law school, the Chief was not to be bothered and if you (Bettencourt) ever go over my head there will be severe repercussions.” While supervising, Blanchette yelled or spoke loudly to everyone and yelled at Bettencourt on an almost daily basis. .

         On June 16, 2013, two Mendon Police officers, Poirier and James Walckner (“Walckner”), made allegations of misconduct to the Massachusetts State Police (“MSP”) regarding Blanchette. The MSP investigated the allegations and conducted interviews of several MPD personnel. On September 18, 2013, Bettencourt was interviewed by the MSP and he told the MSP that on September 8, 2013, Blanchette took a knife from Poirier, started approaching Bettencourt and backed him into a filing cabinet while holding the knife away from his throat. Bettencourt asked Blanchette to stop threatening him and told him that he was “afraid of knives.” Blanchette continued to approach him (Bettencourt) while saying “slash, slash, slice, slash, slash” and making threating motions with the knife towards Bettencourt's throat and groin area. Blanchette was talking about how he learned to kill a man with a knife in the Marines. Bettencourt told the MSP that Blanchette once pulled his Taser on Poirier, Chief Horn, and himself. Blanchette also pulled the Taser on Bettencourt between 2009 and 2012.

         Bettencourt also reported that Blanchette would jam his fingers into his rib cage and that it would cause him pain. Bettencourt reported that Blanchette punched him in the bicep during the previous winter (2012) for leaving his police car running in the parking lot. Bettencourt also reported that Blanchette would “tit flip” him, i.e. walk up to him and put his hand under his pectoral muscle and push up. The “tit flipping” occurred from 2008-2011. Blanchette never “tit flipped” anyone else. Bettencourt repeatedly told Blanchette to stop, but he refused to do so. Bettenccourt and several other MPD employees have described Blanchette's actions as demeaning and degrading. Bettencourt felt that the “tit flipping” was being done because he was gay. Bettencourt ended up having gynecomastia surgery to reduce the size of his breasts. He then started wearing his vest every day.

         Bettencourt also reported being struck with a riding crop in the back of the legs. The alleged incident with the riding crop took place in 2008/2009.[3] Bettencourt also reported being ordered into in a cell along with Poirier. Blanchette was upset with Bettencourt and Poirier (apparently for eating lunch together) and the dispatcher jokingly suggested that Blanchette put them in a cell. Blanchette then took Bettencourt and Poirier to the cell block where prisoners are kept and ordered them into separate cells. Blanchette bolted the door on Poirier's cell. As Blanchette started to shut Bettencourt's cell door, he saw a look in Bettencourt's eyes and said he was joking and let Bettencourt out. At no time was Bettencourt locked in the cell. The incident with the cell occurred in 2011 or 2012. Bettencourt also reported to the MSP that he witnessed Blanchette punch Poirier in the bicep. Bettencourt also reported that Blanchette would poke one of their dispatchers, Robin Remillard. Bettencourt also reported that Blanchette threatened, verbally abused, and belittled everyone at the MPD. However, he verbally and physically abused Bettencourt and Poirier more than other MPD employees. During Bettencourt's interview with the MSP he was ordered not to speak to anyone about the investigation. Bettencourt complied with this order and only told his roommate that he was meeting with the MSP, but he did not provide any explanation.

         Poirier was also interviewed and he told the MSP that he, Bettencourt, and Dave Kurczy (“Kurczy” or “Sergeant Kurczy”) were struck with a fiberglass bike pole. Poirier told the MSP that the officers were hit for about 6-8 months in 2008. Poirier told the MSP that Blanchette once tried to staple his leg, and that he had been verbally/physically abused and bullied since 2008. Poirier reported to the MSP that Blanchette punched him in the chest and tried to “drive stun him” in the groin. Poirier also reported that Blanchette pointed a Taser at approximately five other MPD employees.

         Patricia Benoit-Rudden (“Benoit-Rudden”) was also interviewed by the MSP and she reported that Blanchette was not nice to basically the entire day shift including, Bettencourt, Walckner, Poirier, Robin Remillard, Jessica LeBlanc, Steve Laporta, Kurczy and sometimes herself. Benoit-Rudden also reported instances where she has seen Kurczy upset because Blanchette had yelled at him. She also reported that Blanchette was a yeller and that it would be nothing to hear him yelling at “Pam or Dave” and tell them that they “suck as detectives.” She further stated that Bettencourt and Poirier made clear to Blanchette that they didn't like the physical abuse and he should “knock it off, ” but Blanchette would still do it.

         Robin Remillard was also interviewed by the MSP and she described Blanchette as downright mean, verbally abusive, emotionally abusive, and controlling. She also reported to the MSP that she began to look for a new job because Blanchette's supervisory style was emotionally abrasive and it caused her chest pains, heart burn, and migraines. She also reported that she changed shifts to get away from Blanchette, and that he harassed everyone. Jessica LeBlanc was also interviewed by the MSP and she reported “jokingly” being hit by Blanchette with a closed fist.

         Although it was not reciprocated, Blanchette considered his interactions with Bettencourt to be horseplay. Blanchette, in his mind, treated Bettencourt as if he was a brother. Blanchette had the most physical contact with Bettencourt and Bruce Poirier at the MPD. Bruce Poirier is a straight male.

         On September 28, 2013, Blanchette called Bettencourt looking for the key to the MPD motorcycle. Blanchette forced his way into Bettencourt's office in order to get the motorcycle key because the key was not in its proper place and Blanchette could not find the key to Bettencourt's office. As a result, the door frame to Bettencourt's office was broken and the MPD fixed it. Bettencourt was not working when Blanchette was looking for the key.

         On September 30, 2013, the MSP interviewed Blanchette regarding the allegations made against him. Blanchette contends that prior to his interview with the MSP, he had no knowledge of the investigation or anyone going to speak with the MSP. However, Chief Horn recalls telling him that officers had made complaints that they were being abused by him and that he told Blanchette “what [he] knew.” He also told Blanchette that the MSP wanted to interview him. During his interview, Blanchette acknowledged that most of the allegations were true, including the knife incident. Shortly after Blanchette's interview with the MSP, he was placed on administrative leave, but Chief Horn changed his status to sick leave so that he continued to get paid. On October 21, 2013, Blanchette was arrested as the result of the MSP investigation. Blanchette was charged in connection with the incident where he held a knife to Bettencourt's throat. After he was charged, Blanchette and Chief Horn had very little contact.

         Soon after learning about the allegations brought forward to the MSP, Chief Hornappointed special officer Thomas Green (“Green”) to investigate how the MPD was being run, including allegations of abuse by Blanchette. Chief Horn told Green to report his findings to Town counsel. Green worked, or has worked, for a private consulting firm run by Chief Horn. Moreover, while the investigation purported to be independent, Chief Horn was in contact with Green during the course of the investigation.[4] After receiving and reading Green's completed report, which recommended discipline against Blanchette, Chief Horn recommended to the Board that Blanchette be demoted to patrolman. Although Green was tasked with investigating how the MPD was run and was to primarily address the allege abuse by Blanchette, his report included a substantial amount of information about Bettencourt.

         On August 5, 2014, Bettencourt met with Chief Horn to discuss his (Bettencourt's) belief that Blanchette was returning and the severe anxiety and stress that he was feeling as a result. Chief Horn told Bettencourt that the process by which Blanchette would be allowed to return to work would take about a year. On the morning of August 26, 2014, Blanchette admitted in court to sufficient facts to four felonies and three misdemeanors in which the Plaintiff and Officer Bettencourt were the victims. His case was Continued Without a Finding for 18 months. That same day, Blanchette was allowed to return to full duty status at the MPD.

         The day prior to Blanchette returning to work, Blanchette drove into the police station and stared at Bettencourt in an intimidating manner. On Blanchette's first day back to work, Blanchette stood in the parking lot with his arms crossed staring at Bettencourt while he unloaded his cruiser. Bettencourt called Chief Horn and told him he was uncomfortable working with Blanchette. Chief Horn told Bettencourt he should take off work until September 1, 2014, as “sick time.” On or about August 29, 2014, Sergeant Kurczy went to Bettencourt's home and informed him that Chief Horn had ordered him to take possession of his License to Carry a Firearm as well as his off duty firearm. Chief Horn acknowledges that he was not “required” to take away Bettencourt's License to Carry or his firearm.

         On or about September 8, 2014, Bettencourt delivered a letter to the Mendon Board of Selectmen (“Board”) along with a copy of the MSP report, asking them to terminate Blanchette's employment. That same date, Blanchette and the Town agreed to a “Last Chance Agreement, ” pursuant to which Blanchette agreed not to challenge his demotion and to thereafter comply with rules, regulation and policies of the MPD and refrain from engaging in abusive behavior toward other members of the MPD.

         On November 24, 2014, Senior First District Attorney Daniel Bennett wrote Chief Horn a letter confirming their agreement that Blanchette would no longer be Court liaison with the Worcester County District Attorney's Office and that he would no longer be the primary arresting officer in any case. Chief Horn did not comply with the agreement that Blanchette would no longer be the primary arresting officer on any case. On December 23, 2015, while Blanchette was still on probation, Chief Horn assigned him to the Detective Division which came with an increase in pay and increased overtime opportunities.

         One day, in the dispatch office, while staring at Bettencourt, Blanchette made comments about how he still runs the department and then he walked off. Specifically, Blanchette stated “[w]e still know who runs this f'ing department.” The next day, Blanchette looked right at Bettencourt and made a comment about how he was a patrolman and he could say whatever he wanted in the department. As Blanchette was making this comment he took two or three steps towards Bettencourt before veering off towards the door. Bettencourt never worked the same shift with Blanchette after he returned to the MPD on August 26, 2014.

         Bettencourt filed a charge of discrimination with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (“MCAD”) on November 3, 2014, alleging that Blanchette discriminated against him. Shortly after Bettencourt filed his MCAD charge of discrimination he applied for an open sergeant's position and was denied the promotion. Bettencourt was interviewed by Sergeant Kurczy, and Assistant Fire Chief Mark Bucchino, who had allegiances to Chief Horn. He was also interviewed by Town Administrator Kimberly Newman. Bettencourt does not believe that any of these individuals had any animus towards him because he was gay. Bettencourt believes that he was more experienced and had more training than the officer who was selected. Blanchette had no knowledge that Bettencourt was seeking a promotion, and Bettencourt has no knowledge of Blanchette playing a role in the denial of his promotion.

         Blanchette claims that he learned that Bettencourt was gay in April of 2013, however, there is evidence in the record which suggests that he knew before that date. Blanchette was sad that Bettencourt did not tell him that he was gay because he thought they were friendly enough that Bettencourt could tell him. Prior to April 2013, officers at the MPD made accusations that Bettencourt was gay. Blanchette was aware of these accusations, but knew at this time that Bettencourt dated women. In 2008, Bettencourt told Blanchette's girlfriend that he was gay. Bettencourt has no knowledge that Blanchette's girlfriend repeated this information to Blanchette. Bettencourt never told Blanchette that he was gay. Bettencourt has never been in a relationship with a male that he made known to any personnel at the MPD and Blanchette has never made an anti-gay remark or used a gay slur at Bettencourt.

         Chief Horn claims that prior to the commencement of this lawsuit, he did not know that Bettencourt was gay. However, there is evidence in the record that suggests that Chief Horn was aware that Bettencourt was gay well before suit was filed. Chief Horn claims that the first time Horn was made aware of Blanchette's objectionable conduct was around September 30, 2013, after Walckner and Poirier had gone to the MSP in June 2013. However, Chief Horn acknowledges receiving a copy of anonymous letter outlining Blanchette's objectionable conduct on March 17, 2013. The letter was first sent to radio station WMRC in Milford. Chief Horn called Blanchette into his office and asked him about the allegations. Chief Horn claims that Blanchette denied it. However, Blanchette states that he probably said that he did it. Whether Chief Horn conducted any investigation within the MPD as a result of the letter is a disputed fact, The Board, did not conduct any investigation into the allegations and neither the Board nor Chief Horn took any corrective action as the result of the letter.

         Bettencourt never made a complaint about Blanchette to Chief Horn. Bettencourt also never made a complaint about Blanchette to the Board. Bettencourt did not do so because he feared professional and physical retaliation from Blanchette. Given the inferences of conflict and bias throughout this case, it is appropriate to note that Blanchette was the best man at Chief Horn's wedding. In January 2014, Sergeant Kurczy questioned Bettencourt about his discovery that he (Bettencourt) had indicated on a 2012 department form that he had been the victim of harassment. Bettencourt denied that he was the victim of harassment.

         In December 2015, after Blanchette had returned to the MPD for approximately 14 months, Bettencourt reported feeling ill to Chief Horn who believed he was experiencing mental stress and told him to take some time off to feel better. Based on his observations of how distraught Bettencourt was at the time and fearing that he might hurt himself, Chief Horn took his firearm, although he was not required to do so. Moreover, despite his contention that he took away the firearm because he felt Bettencourt was under mental stress, he would not place him on injured on duty status pursuant to Mass.Gen.L. ch. 41, §111F (“IOD”), although he had the authority to do so. Through counsel and while remaining on leave, Plaintiff subsequently requested that he be placed on IOD status. Chief Horn ultimately forwarded the request to the Board, who pursuant to Bettencourt's request, placed him on IOD status.

         After Bettencourt reported Blanchette's conduct to the MSP, his take home motorcycle, which he had used for five years, was taken away and his office was moved to a trailer. Chief Horn did not renew the lease on two motorcycles, one which was used by Bettencourt and another used by Sergeant Hoar, who had been promoted and would no longer be using the motorcycle. Additionally, Bettencourt was not the only officer to be moved to the ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.