A scathing investigation found the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth covered up allegations that a former campus police officer sexually assaulted and harassed a student, allowing the officer, David Laudon, to quietly resign and to go on to work for other police departments.
The small town of Blackstone commissioned the 81-page report after a reporter asked officials why they hired Laudon, given his past, and assigned him to investigate sexual assaults and work with students in the schools.
Laudon resigned in January after a WBUR investigation, co-published by The Boston Globe, found he was one of more than a dozen officers across the state who landed jobs with other departments after being fired or forced to resign. Laudon left the UMass police in 2010.
The Blackstone report alleges Laudon “engaged in multiple offenses of sexual assault” against a former student at UMass Dartmouth, including at least one incident the investigator classified rape. It also found Laudon harassed the woman with unwanted phone calls and text messages, even pulling her over in his cruiser when she wouldn’t answer.
Laudon did not respond to requests for comment, but he told Blackstone’s investigator, former Massachusetts police chief Arthur Parker, that his relationship with the student who complained was consensual. He canceled a follow-up interview for “medical reasons.”
The report also found Laudon had a sexual relationship with at least one other student, violating the department’s policy barring officers from being romantically involved with students.
The report said Laudon had sex with students both in their dorm rooms and inside his cruiser when he was supposed to be on duty. There were also cases where Laudon didn’t respond to radio calls, according to a former co-worker and student quoted in the report.
The Blackstone report said it found no evidence that UMass Dartmouth ever launched a criminal investigation or referred the allegations against Laudon to the Bristol district attorney for further review.
The report also alleges the UMass Dartmouth police chief at the time, Emil Fioravanti, did not treat the allegations seriously and “failed to conduct a minimally competent investigation.”
Fioravanti, now the chief of police at Wheaton College in Norton, refused to speak to Blackstone investigators and did not return messages from WBUR seeking comment.
In addition, the report alleged UMass covered up the allegations by agreeing to provide Laudon with a neutral recommendation to future employers when he resigned in 2010.
Laudon said his union told him the resignation agreement was the “best solution,” according to an interview summary.
Despite the agreement, Fioravanti shared negative things about Laudon with other departments on at least two occasions, according to a former UMass Dartmouth police officer and union steward who spoke to investigators. Both times, a school human resources executive reminded him about the agreement. And after the second occasion, she reportedly warned Fioravanti that he would be fired if he did it again.
In a written statement, UMass Dartmouth communications director Ryan Merrill called the report “inaccurate, misleading, and incomplete.”
“The university has been compliant with all relevant laws and regulations and was as responsive and transparent as legally possible,” he said.
The Blackstone report also found no evidence that anyone at the town learned about the sexual assault allegations against Laudon until WBUR asked about them last year and provided a copy of the UMass Dartmouth police report.
Blackstone Police Chief Greg Gilmore, who conducted Laudon’s background check in 2013, said he was told by a UMass Dartmouth police lieutenant that Laudon “had good attendance, was ambitious, and squared away.” UMass Dartmouth said it has no record of such background requests from Blackstone and would have provided the records with the employee’s permission.
When Blackstone tried to learn more about the allegations last year, however, it says the school refused to cooperate, denying public records requests and barring former officers from speaking on the record.
“UMD officials have continued to this day to stonewall and cover up Officer Laudon’s misconduct,” the report said. In an interview, lead investigator Parker said the findings “really question the decisions of UMass Dartmouth and the competency of UMass Dartmouth leadership.”
Meanwhile, the former UMass Dartmouth student who says Laudon assaulted her remains haunted by what happened more than a dozen years ago. She told investigators the period was one of the worst times in her life, and she stopped attending classes.
“She said she fears him,” the report said, “and is very concerned about him attempting to contact her again.”