2015-05-21 / Front Page

Officers: man who committed suicide was abused

Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – Siblings of a Biddeford man who died in St. Petersburg, Florida as a result of a police shooting in 2002 say their brother, Michael Frenette, confided to them that he had been sexually abused by a Biddeford police officer. According to the reports of three former police officers and two siblings, Frenette may have been abused by two different officers. 

Frenette’s mother, Eva Elder, who now lives in St. Petersburg, said her son had lived largely at odds with the law and had been released from prison just six weeks before he died. Frenette served a sentence of more than five years at Walton Correctional Institution in De Funiak Springs, Florida from September 1997 to November 2002 for six offenses, including carjacking, grand theft, grand theft of a motor vehicle, eluding an officer and burglary.

Elder said Frenette disappeared with a friend’s truck in December after he was released. After he had been missing for a week, the friend reported that her truck had been stolen and filed a missing person report on Frenette, Elder said. 

The police found Frenette and the truck eventually, said Elder, and when they pulled him over, he got into a scuffle with an officer, attempted to gain control of his firearm, and was subsequently shot by another officer. The death was ruled a suicide by the police and Elder said she doesn’t doubt that he wanted to die.

“He had told me before, ‘Mom, I would rather die than go back to prison,’” Elder said. 

Frenette’s older sister who now lives in New York,  Carol Hennessey, said her brother, who grew up in Biddeford, told her he had been abused by a police officer.

“He didn’t say in detail, as he was humiliated about it,” Hennessey said. “He did mention the cop’s name, Dodd or Todd something. The detective at the time, Terry Davis, and I had a conversation about it years ago … He shared with me the goings-on at the time Mike and others were abused and how he tried to help. There were details (Davis) didn’t share, as he didn’t want to upset me, but he did say it was horrific.”

In a previous article in the Courier (see “Blowing the whistle” in the May 14 issue), former Biddeford police officer Robert Poisson said he took a report in the 1980s about an allegation of sexual abuse by another officer, Capt. Norman Gaudette. Poisson, who worked for the department from 1974 to 2004, confirmed that Frenette was the man who reported the abuse. 

Gaudette was suspended from work in 1990 while the attorney general investigated him for sexual misconduct. The attorney general never indicted Gaudette, who returned to work in spring of 1991 (see “Blowing the whistle”). Gaudette retired in 2001, after working for the department since 1973. He was promoted to corporal in 1977, to sergeant in 1980 and in 1981, he became a captain.

Another officer, Stephen Dodd, was investigated by the attorney general in 2002, but never indicted. Dodd surrendered his eligibility to work as a law enforcement or corrections officer in Maine in 2003, upon retiring from the force after working there since 1978. Dodd was promoted to corporal in 1985 and sergeant in 1999. He is currently being investigated by the Attorney General’s Office amidst new allegations of sexual abuse. 

Poisson said he passed Frenette’s complaint against Gaudette up the chain of command and was surprised when Chief Roger Beaupre assigned the case directly to then-Deputy Chief Benoit Martin. Poisson said he doesn’t believe Frenette’s complaint got forwarded to the attorney general years later when it conducted an independent investigation into Gaudette.

Another former officer, Sgt. Robert Devoe, confirmed that he, too, saw the report in which Frenette alleged abuse by Gaudette. Devoe said he was upset that the complaint had been assigned to Martin and not to him because, at the time, Devoe was head of the internal affairs office of the police department. Devoe said his job was to investigate complaints against police officers and he found it odd that he would not be the one to investigate Gaudette.

Devoe said another allegation against Gaudette, made by Robert Kalex, was also assigned to Martin instead of to the internal affairs unit. The Courier interviewed Kalex about his alleged abuse by Gaudette (see “Allegations against officer are similar” in the April 9 issue). Attempts by the Courier to reach Martin for comment about Frenette and Kalex’s allegations against Gaudette were unsuccessful. 

Devoe, who worked for the Biddeford police from 1967 to 2006, and was promoted to sergeant in 1976, said, “I didn’t care for the way complaints were handled against officers.”

Elder said her son never told her about any abuse by Biddeford police officers, but she knew that Frenette had been abused on other occasions.

“There were a few other incidents,” Elder said. “Something happened at a school he went to in Lancaster, Massachusetts. When he was in Okeechobee, he was molested by two big black guys, and he was molested by somebody in Old Orchard Beach.”

“Mikey was a very, very good looking young man,” added Elder. “People took advantage of him. He had a soft heart.”

After the Courier asked Elder whether Frenette had ever told her he was abused by a police officer, Elder said she contacted her son who was closest to him, Frenette’s next-oldest brother, Joey Frenette, who now lives in Bangor.

“He told me, ‘Oh yeah, he was definitely molested by a police officer,’” Elder said. “When I asked him, ‘Well how come he never told me?’ he said, ‘Well mom, it’s not exactly the kind of thing you talk to your mother about.’”

 Michael Frenette’s younger brother, Sonny Frenette of Lyman, said he didn’t know his brother as well because he was much younger, but remembers how difficult it was for Michael to stay out of trouble. Michael and Sonny Frenette have the same father, but different mothers.

“Michael was always in trouble. Trouble always had found him,” Sonny Frenette said. “I remember at one point, every other day we were having to pick him up from jail.”

Sonny said another one of Michael Frenette’s younger brothers, Elder’s youngest son, Gerry Therrien, was a corrections officer at the York County Sheriff’s Office, and witnessed his brother’s frequent visits to the jail.

“It wasn’t nice for him to have to take in Michael’s information every time,” Sonny Frenette said.

One time, said Sonny Frenette, a riot broke out in Old Orchard Beach and Michael appeared in a photo on the front page of a newspaper, swinging nunchucks at a police officer. If Michael’’s allegations of abuse by police officers are true, Sonny Frenette said, then it would explain his lifelong trouble with the law.

“For everything Michael had done, he might have been labeled, but he was still a person,” Sonny Frenette said. “There’s a lot of stuff that he did that might have labeled him, but he still shouldn’t have been made to do something he didn’t want to do.”

Hennessey, who now lives in New York, said she can’t believe how long it has taken for her brother’s complaint to be recognized.

“I’m in awe of the years passed, that this is just now coming to light,” Hennessey said.

Although Elder only recently found out, years after her son’s death, about the complaint of abuse he reported to the police, she said she believes her son.

“If he was the first one (to report abuse by Gaudette), and I don’t believe he knew any of the other guys (who alleged abuse), then I believe it was true,” Elder said. “If Michael went in and reported it, then it’s true.”

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