2015-05-14 / Front Page

Public access volunteer won't release video of forum

Local senator is looking into matter
Molly Lovell-Keely, Managing Editor

BIDDEFORD – State Sen. David Dutremble and others are upset that a public access volunteer who filmed a forum about recent sexual assault allegations refuses to release the video. 

Dutremble, a Democrat who represents Senate District 32, organized the forum, held May 9 at the J. Richard Martin Community Center. It was held in response to residents who felt stifled by the city’s mayor and councilors, who wouldn’t let them speak freely at two recent council meetings according to what officials said are council rules. 

Boston resident Matt Lauzon, a 2003 Biddeford High School graduate, came forward publicly in February with allegations that former Biddeford police officer Stephen Dodd sexually abused him as a teen. Since then, others have come forward alleging similar abuse about Dodd and another former officer, Norman Gaudette. 

“This was my forum,” Dutremble said. “This is part of the scam – it’s continuing corruption. I think they’ve been asked by certain people not to release it. They’re not giving us a voice.”

Dutremble said he was going to film the forum with his own camera, but decided not to when he found out a volunteer from public access was going to record the event. He also said he believes those who oppose Lauzon’s efforts are behind the matter, though he declined to name anyone specifically. 

Tim Frechette, the volunteer producer with Biddeford Public Access who filmed the event, would only say that he wasn’t releasing the video. Frechette didn’t respond when asked if his activity on social media pertaining to the recent allegations had anything to do with him holding the video. Ward 5 City Councilor Bob Mills said he heard Frechette was concerned not by any comments made on the recent allegations, but a comment a resident made about other matters.

Public Access Director Steve Poulos said since Frechette shot the video on his own time and with his own equipment, he’s not required to release the video. 

“It’s his own personal property,” Poulos said.

Mills called public access a day before the forum to ask that a representative tape the event.

“I don’t typically call people at the last minute. I told him I’d see if there was anyone willing to do it,” Poulos said. “(Tim) said he wasn’t working on anything else and didn’t mind doing it.”

Poulos said not long after the event, Frechette, who Poulos said has been a dedicated volunteer for Biddeford Public Access for four or five years, had concerns that he could be sued over the tape’s content if he were to release it. Poulos said he spoke with City Manager John Bubier about the matter, and all parties agreed the issue was unfamiliar territory.

“I don’t know if there is anything there that somebody could sue over,” Poulos said, adding that he hasn’t watched the video in its entirety. 

Poulos said there’s a set public access schedule that’s available on the city website. Generally, only city meetings and workshops are uploaded to the site for viewers to watch on demand. Items like the forum could be worked into that set weekly schedule, or Poulos could upload a video to his personal YouTube channel and share the link with interested parties, who then usually share it on social media.

“We’re not a news station,” Poulos added. “I have gone above and beyond over the past 14, 15 years to make people available to tape things like this. This is not the type of subject that comes up every day.”

“When volunteers go and do something like that, they own the program,” Poulos added. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s controversial.”

Poulos said it’s much like a newspaper holding interviews or stories that could get the entity sued for libel. 

“If you felt there were serious concerns about being sued, you wouldn’t think twice about it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lauzon believes there are legal issues with the videographer holding the tape and said he will file a lawsuit to obtain it if needed.

Poulos said he supports the Lauzon family and Matt Lauzon’s efforts. 

“I’ve known Matt’s mother for years,” he said. “A young man does not come out and present these types of allegations without being humiliated. I can’t see him or any others doing it for any other reason than, it happened.”

Poulos said he respects Dutremble, but if the meeting had been filmed in council chambers, it would be a different matter. 

“Sen. Dutremble realizes this wasn’t a city meeting. You could ask a hundred different people whether or not they would have aired it and get a hundred different answers why or why not,” Poulos said, adding that if Frechette had used public access equipment, like most volunteer producers do, the circumstances may be different.

Poulos said he doesn’t even watch city council meetings because he doesn’t want to be accused of bias. He also added that during the last city election, University of New England students asked questions of candidates, not any staff or volunteer with public access.

Mills said on Tuesday that he talked with Poulos, who said something might be worked out with Frechette to sign over the rights of the video to someone else, which would take care of any worries Frechette has about a lawsuit.

The Courier has filed a Freedom of Access Act request with City Attorney Keith Jacques to obtain a copy of the video.

Biddeford resident and former Ward 4 city councilor Melissa Bednarowski is acting as a liaison for another city resident who collected enough signatures for a general citizens’ meeting on the matter of alleged abuse by former Biddeford police officers. 

The council wasn’t going to hear from residents on the matter until Thursday, June 4, so resident Mellisa Luedke collected the 100 signatures needed to force the council to meet earlier on the matter. The meeting was originally scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 19, but Luedke and others objected to the time, saying people wouldn’t be out of work. 

The meeting is now scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, May 28 at a location to be determined. Mayor Alan Casavant sent a press release May 15 stating that he had secured professional mediator John Alfano for the original meeting. Luedke said she didn’t ask for a professional mediator and objected to Casavant’s actions.

Bednarowski said she will request that Frechette, the public access volunteer, not be the representative from public access who films the meeting.

Bednarowski said she intends to facilitate the meeting and was scheduled to meet with Casavant and Alfano at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 19, after the Courier’s deadline. 

The mayor sent a press release Monday, May 19 about the meeting being rescheduled, referring to Bednarowski as “a confidante and spokesperson for the people who asked for a special city council meeting.” 

Bednarowski said she is only a liaison between Luedke and the city and does not speak for those who signed the petition or the alleged victims.

Recent inaction by city officials has reminded Bednarowski of a quote by Winston Churchill:

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” 

EDITOR'S NOTE: Frechette has provided Lauzon with a copy of the public access forum Tuesday, May 19 after the Courier's deadline, after Lauzon, via social media, said he would sue if the video wasn't released. The Courier has not been provided with a copy of the video and it's unclear if the public forum will be shown on public access.

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