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Long-simmering tensions between two neighboring police departments in York County came to a head this summer when a routine police patrol by officers of one town down the private road of the neighboring town’s police chief led to name-calling and insults by the chief.

The hostile reception given to Berwick police officers by South Berwick Police Chief Dana Lajoie and his son, Jamie Lajoie, outside Dana Lajoie’s Berwick home, did not surprise Berwick police, who had encountered it before.

But the Lajoies’ animosity toward Berwick police now threatens the two departments’ ability to cooperate day to day.

The towns have a contract to help each other on emergency calls, but Berwick police leaders are trying to minimize all other contact with South Berwick officers.

South Berwick Police Chief Dana Lajoie berated and insulted officers of the Berwick Police Department after they drove down his private lane one night in July. Warning: The video above contains explicit language.

Berwick officers will no longer respond to non-emergency calls for assistance in South Berwick, or use the South Berwick station to administer breath tests for suspected drunken drivers, said Berwick Capt. Jerry Locke.

“They know not to call us for non-emergency stuff,” Locke said. “When (the South Berwick chief) tells you that the entire department is a bunch of liars, that’s not something we want to get involved in, or get involved in any of our cases.”

Disputes between neighboring police departments are rare. Officers tend to show one another solidarity and support. But in small towns, where people have shared histories that go way back, grudges can fester and blur the separation between the personal and the professional.

***

The latest conflict between the Lajoies and Berwick police began when two Berwick police officers briefly turned down Dana Lajoie’s Fairway Lane in Berwick late on July 20, a weeknight. Nearly everyone on the private road is related to Lajoie, and Jamie Lajoie lives on property adjoining his father’s.

The Lajoies, upset that a marked cruiser drove beyond their “No Trespassing” sign before leaving the area, called dispatchers and requested that the Berwick officers come back to explain themselves.

img loading="lazy" src="https://www.centralmaine.com/wp-content/plugins/lazy-load/images/1x1.trans.gif" alt width="1024" height="552" data-full-size="https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/10/print/BerwickScreenCapJuly2021_3.jpg" data-lazy-src="https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/10/2021/11/BerwickScreenCapJuly2021_3-1024x552.jpg"">South Berwick police Chief Dana Lajoie, center, confronted police in Berwick, where Lajoie lives, for driving down his private road. Still image from Berwick Police Department video

When the officers returned, the Lajoies demanded to know why they had trespassed. Berwick police officer Nicholas Higgins explained that he was training a new officer on the town’s geography.

Unsatisfied by that explanation, the Lajoies repeatedly insulted Higgins and called Berwick police liars, their behavior captured on police video.

In the footage, obtained by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram through a Freedom of Access Act request, Lajoie, South Berwick’s chief of police for 35 years, slurs his speech as he demands answers. Locke, the Berwick police captain, told the newspaper he believes alcohol was involved.

Over about 20 minutes, Dana Lajoie and his son, himself a former police officer of more than a dozen years, disparage both the Berwick police department as a whole and Higgins personally.

Dana Lajoie introduces himself to reserve patrolman Brian Guay, the new trainee, but warns Guay about his colleagues. “I’ve had enough with their lying,” he tells Guay. “Understand you’re working for a dishonest group of people.”

The Lajoies request a supervisor, and when Berwick police Sgt. Jeff Pilkington arrives and Higgins and Guay drive off, Lajoie resumes his attacks on Higgins.

“The guy that’s on his second or third wife? That can’t tell the truth, and tries to screw anybody around him? (Expletive) him,” Dana Lajoie tells Pilkington. “And I hope your recorder’s working.”

“He’s a piece of (expletive)!” both Lajoies say at the same time.

When Pilkington attempts to defuse the situation and tells the Lajoies that he did not know they didn’t want cruisers on the road and that Berwick police will not drive down it in the future, they are not satisfied.

“That’s not how that works!” Jamie Lajoie shouts.

“Then what do you want, chief?” asks Pilkington, his voice rising with exasperation.

“I want respect!” says Dana Lajoie.

***

Sgt. Jeff Pilkington was called to the scene, where the Lajoies continued to insist that police had trespassed and to demand the Berwick Police Department’s respect. Warning: The above video contains explicit language.

Respect is at the heart of the Lajoies’ very personal beef with Berwick police. So is their insistence that many members of the Berwick force are untrustworthy, a serious accusation for a chief to make against an entire department in a profession that hinges on credibility.

The Lajoies have made it clear they feel personally disrespected and distrusted by Berwick police, and they seem to want Berwick police to know how that feels.

Jamie Lajoie said he began to sour on the Berwick police when he applied to work for them nearly a decade ago but felt he was not given a fair shake.

Jamie, 35, had been an officer for four years in Kennebunk when he resigned in 2011 in the face of a misconduct investigation. Lajoie declined to discuss the nature of the allegations against him, and the records are confidential by law.

Lajoie then applied to work in Berwick. But the Town of Kennebunk refused to release to Berwick police details of the investigation that preceded his resignation, according to Lajoie and a copy of a letter from Kennebunk he provided. Lajoie said he offered to take a polygraph test and help Berwick with its background check “110 percent,” but Berwick police ended the hiring process, and he soon found work as an officer in nearby Rollinsford, New Hampshire.

“It wasn’t even ‘Hire me,'” Lajoie said of what he wanted from Berwick. “It was ‘Give me a fair shot like everyone else.'”

Lajoie cites examples of people on the Berwick force he says were given the fair shot he wasn’t – and, in his opinion, should not have been hired at all. Higgins is one of them.

Higgins and Lajoie used to work together in Kennebunk and were close, Higgins as a lieutenant and Lajoie as an officer. Higgins resigned in 2010 when he had an affair with a subordinate officer against town ordinance, according to 2013 court testimony by the Kennebunk police chief. Berwick hired him in 2014, a few years after Lajoie was turned away.

Lajoie also claims that Berwick Police Chief Timothy Towne once inexplicably tried to get him fired from his police job in New Hampshire for meeting up one night to talk with Higgins, then a Berwick officer. Locke said that someone complained about seeing Higgins, on duty and outside of his jurisdiction, talking with Lajoie at the South Berwick Water District. He asked the Rollinsford chief if there was a legitimate reason for them to meet.

“The answer was ‘no,'” Locke said, and no further action was requested.

Jamie Lajoie is especially aggrieved by a 2019 incident when Berwick police came to his home, responding to a 911 call. He claims they entered his house illegally, lied about it in a police report and refused to correct the record when he complained.

On the evening of July 26, 2019, Lajoie was arguing with his girlfriend, Nicole Doherty. In the midst of the yelling, Doherty called her mother, who heard the commotion and called 911 for her daughter. Doherty’s mother told a dispatcher Lajoie had been drinking and she feared the confrontation would be become physical, according to 911 audio.

Berwick officers Milton Fogg and Jimmie Baccon arrived a few minutes later.

Jamie Lajoie’s driveway cuts close to his father’s backyard. When the Berwick cruiser pulled up to Jamie Lajoie’s home, he and his father were in Dana Lajoie’s garage about a 100 yards away, the Lajoies said. Fogg parked, got out of his cruiser and yelled over to them, according to surveillance footage Jamie Lajoie provided.

“Hey, did you guys call?” Fogg says.

Jamie Lajoie’s response is unintelligible, but in a recent interview, Lajoie said he called out to Fogg by name and said he owned the home. In the video, Fogg can be seen turning away and walking into the open garage, where he and Baccon would soon talk with Doherty.

Fogg announces himself as he enters and Doherty does not tell him to leave. She later gives him permission to come back inside if he needs to find her again.

Jamie Lajoie said he and Fogg played football together and knew each other from police work. When Fogg entered his home without his permission, he felt disrespected and saw that entry as a trespass and constitutional violation.

A short time later after the officers met Doherty, police recordings capture Baccon talking with the Lajoies.

“It’s a very tense situation,” Dana Lajoie explains. “They just separated today, so we’ve been over here. There’s been some snide remarks there. There’s been no physical contacts. Absolutely none.”

The tone is reasonably calm. Then Fogg walks up and Jamie Lajoie asks him why the police came to his house.

“Because we got called to a D.V. … ” Fogg says, shorthand for a domestic violence incident. Both Lajoies react instantly.

Fogg had misspoken. The call was for a domestic disturbance, not a physical fight, according to a recording of the 911 tape and dispatch records. When he tries to correct and explain himself, the Lajoies, speaking as if they are the authorities in charge, talk over him and demand to see information from the call.

Dana Lajoie says the domestic violence call is “now on his record,” although there is no allegation of violence and the call was to his son’s address. The South Berwick chief demands to know if Fogg had put his name out over the police radio. If his name is attached to any police report mentioning domestic violence, he says, he wants to pursue a criminal charge against the caller for a false report.

“She was reporting a verbal argument that could escalate, so how am I going to get her for false report?” Fogg says.  “That’s –”

Dana Lajoie interrupts him again.

“I’m telling you I want to do it,” he says. “What is it you’re not getting, Milton?”

Jamie Lajoie is yelling in the background: “Bull! (expletive)!”

“Give me the report. I want her charged,” Dana Lajoie says on video.

Fogg and Baccon left the encounter without taking any action. But over the next three days, Fogg returned to the Lajoie properties four times trying to comply with their wishes to press criminal charges against the 911 caller. The Lajoies said they would not give him statements until the Berwick police provided them with every report, audio recording and video of the encounter – information that they had no right to and that is confidential by law until an investigation is completed. They never gave statements.

Again and again, the Lajoies turn things upside down, acting as if they are the ones in charge of asking the questions, not Fogg.

During one conversation recorded on police video, Jamie Lajoie takes aim at Fogg’s policework. He criticizes Fogg for not immediately accepting the word of an ex-cop and a police chief that nothing criminal has occurred. “You don’t trust us?” he asks Fogg repeatedly.

He pokes fun at Fogg, a school resource officer who doesn’t often work patrol, for not knowing the name of the Lajoies’ private road. And he expresses his anger at Fogg for entering his home without his permission.

“How come you didn’t come to me as a man to man and ask me what was going on?” Lajoie asked.

“Jamie, I swear to God, I didn’t even know this was your house, and I didn’t even realize it was you sitting there. I swear to God,” Fogg says.

“Milton, do you think I’m going to (expletive) assault a woman?” Lajoie says, to which Fogg replies no.

“Why did you act like I was some piece of (expletive), then?” Lajoie said.

The conversation bounces back and forth from serious to joking. But when Fogg tries to explain how he got confused about the nature of the 911 call and mentions domestic violence, Dana Lajoie interjects, raising an index finger. No, he says. There was no DV.

“I’m attached to it, I’m filing a formal complaint,” Dana Lajoie says.

Fogg implores the veteran chief, “You gotta let me finish, bud.”

“Don’t call me bud, please,” says Dana Lajoie. “I’m 40 years as chief. I’m not ‘bud.’ That’s being disrespectful. I’m not being disrespectful to you.”

***

When Berwick police showed up on Fairway Lane almost exactly two years after that 911 call, Dana Lajoie told Sgt. Pilkington that the officers’ trespass that night was a continuation of a pattern of disrespect and disregard for his family and their property.

Despite multiple requests for an interview, Dana Lajoie would not discuss what happened that night and referred questions to his attorney, who did not return the Press Herald’s calls or emails.

In the 911 incident, York County District Attorney Katherine Slattery had declined to press charges against Doherty’s mother, according to Berwick police records. Jamie Lajoie said in an interview that the Berwick police had ignored his pleas to investigate his contentions that Fogg had entered his home illegally and that parts of Fogg’s report about what happened that day were false.

Berwick police say that although Lajoie alleged an illegal entry, he never filed a complaint.

After the confrontation on Fairway Lane this summer, the Lajoies sought criminal charges against the police for trespassing. Separately, Jamie Lajoie said Pilkington’s arm had made contact with his hand and phone as he was recording their interaction.

Towne, Berwick’s police chief, forwarded the complaints to the Attorney General’s Office, whose chief of investigations determined that there was no grounds to bring criminal charges. Separately, Towne found no grounds to discipline Pilkington for touching Jamie Lajoie.

In an Aug. 11 letter, Towne politely informed Jamie Lajoie of the outcomes and said that Berwick police had been instructed to stay away from Fairway Lane unless called there.

“It is obvious that had we not been on Fairway Lane on the night of July 20, 2021, we would not have caused you concern and encountered the problems that followed,” Towne wrote.

Still, the Lajoies did not drop their accusations of broad malfeasance by the Berwick police.

Chiefs of police in Maine have a statutory duty to report possible crimes by officers to the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, said its executive director, Rick Desjardins.

Desjardins, after viewing video of the incident this summer, declined to comment on specifics because Dana Lajoie’s behavior could still come before the board of trustees, who evaluate alleged police misconduct. But he did say he had never seen anything like it, and praised the Berwick police for remaining professional.

If Dana Lajoie seriously believes Berwick police are liars or engaged in any criminal conduct, he should report them, Desjardins said.

“There are mechanisms to do that,” he said.

Since the incident, Towne has clearly stated his reluctance to have his officers cross the town line into South Berwick unless absolutely required.

“I have grievous concerns with our officers providing mutual aid in the town of South Berwick whose chief law enforcement officer has verbalized great disdain for our department,” he wrote in a July 22 email to Stephen Eldridge, then the Berwick town manager.

The Berwick police officers’ union, shocked by the video, urged the town of Berwick in a letter July 26 to take action against Dana Lajoie and end the mutual aid agreement between the two towns.

“This incident has completely degraded our trust in Chief Lajoie and his ability to effectively work and interact with the members of the Berwick Police Department,” the officers wrote to South Berwick interim Town Manager Jennifer Janelle and the town council members.

Town Council President John C. Kareckas said he received the union letter but dismissed taking action against Lajoie.

“There’s nothing … that rises to the level of town council action in this matter,” Kareckas said, reaffirming his support for the chief. “There’s nothing going on. Our relationships are still sound.”

Janelle agreed.

“It’s really an issue between Dana Lajoie, a resident of Berwick, and the police department,” she said in an interview.

Janelle tried to broker a meeting between the towns at Chief Lajoie’s request, suggesting in an Aug. 16 email to the Berwick town manager that a conference could “clear the air.” But Eldridge told Towne in an email the same day that participating in such a meeting would validate Lajoie’s behavior.

“What’s the reason for (Lajoie’s) request and what does he expect the outcome may be?” Eldridge wrote back to Janelle, labeling Lajoie’s behavior a “South Berwick issue.”

Jamie Lajoie, meanwhile, has demanded Berwick town councilors take action against their police department, but they are reluctant to get involved. He says he wants the entire department investigated.

“I get ignored in this town,” Jamie Lajoie said. “I’ve got plenty of documentation to show.”

Next year, he said

, he plans to run for a seat on the Berwick select board. Maybe then, he suggested, he will finally be heard.


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