South Berwick Police Chief Dana Lajoie was placed on paid administrative leave this week while the town investigates a confrontation he had with Berwick police officers outside his home late one night in July.

Lajoie, who lives in Berwick but has been chief in the neighboring town since 1986, berated and insulted Berwick officers who drove onto his private road late on July 20 and accused officers on a routine training patrol of trespassing on his property.

The interaction was captured on police dashboard video, which was obtained by the Portland Press Herald via a Freedom of Access Act request. It shows Lajoie slurring his words as he hurls profane, personal insults against one officer and questions the integrity of the rest of the department.

The confrontation drew a rebuke from the Berwick police officer’s union, which sent a letter July 26 to the South Berwick interim town manager and town councilors that described Lajoie’s behavior in detail and urged the town to end an agreement for mutual aid during emergencies.

While the towns had continued to help each other when required to as part of a mutual-aid agreement, Berwick had instructed its police to minimize interactions with South Berwick officers, and had stopped using the South Berwick station house to administer breath-alcohol tests to suspected drunken drivers, Berwick Capt. Jerry Locke said.

The departments now plan to resume full cooperation, Locke said in an email Tuesday.

In a previous interview, South Berwick Council President John Kareckas said he did not immediately distribute the Berwick police union letter to his council colleagues until after a reporter inquired about it. He defended Lajoie, saying the town’s relationships were sound.

David Ruger has been named interim chief of the South Berwick Police Department until the investigation concludes, said Jennifer Janelle, South Berwick’s acting town manager. Ruger had previously served as an interim lieutenant.

The decision by Janelle follows a Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram report that detailed Lajoie’s long-running feud with officers in the town where he lives, and traced the origins of his disdain, including a 911 call in 2019 to the home of his son, Jamie Lajoie, whose property abuts his father’s.

“We do stress that the leave is non-disciplinary,” Janelle said. She plans to meet next week with a third-party investigator but did not provide the investigator’s name. Janelle declined to say whether she watched the videos of the July incident involving Lajoie prior to the story’s publication.

The investigation comes during a transition for South Berwick. The town council has hired a new town manager, Timothy Pellerin, a career fireman who switched to municipal administration and is currently the town manager in Harrison.

LAJOIE INVESTIGATED BEFORE

The investigation will be the second time Lajoie has been scrutinized while at the helm of the South Berwick police.

In 1992, a town-commissioned report by a private investigator turned up 29 complaints against South Berwick police and Lajoie, and a five-member committee of residents recommended that Lajoie resign as chief, according to news accounts at the time.

Some officers reported feeling that Lajoie had hired too many of his friends, who were not disciplined for wrongdoing. Others reported that Lajoie ignored complaints when they were filed against his staff, and some said officers harassed or retaliated against them after filing complaints. One man said that when he went to South Berwick police to try to resolve some parking tickets, an officer ended up slamming him against a wall and arresting him.

Another allegation centered on drunken police officers fighting with residents at parties, including some gatherings that Lajoie attended, and said that other police departments had to be called to break up the scuffles, according to a Feb. 1, 1992, Press Herald staff report.

In another case described in media accounts, a woman, identified as Mary Batchelder, reported to a South Berwick officer that another South Berwick policeman had harassed her and followed her to a grocery store. The officer called the woman a liar, and Lajoie suggested that both Batchelder and the officer in question take lie detector tests. A tape of the woman making the report was played at Lajoie’s appeal, according to a news story at the time.

“During the course of investigating nearly 30 allegations of misconduct by Lajoie or members of the department, it became obvious that supervisory control was severely lacking,” the committee wrote, according to a Jan. 31, 1992, Associated Press account published in the Press Herald.

Lajaoie rebutted the complaints and showed that some were groundless, but he was still suspended for two weeks without pay and ordered to improve management of the department or be fired, the Press Herald reported.

A hearing challenging Lajoie’s suspension was held in public, and in March 1992, about 100 people watched as his attorney argued that his punishment should be lifted. The town council upheld the suspension. About a month later, Lajoie sued the town for back pay and to wipe his disciplinary record clean of the suspension. It’s unclear how that lawsuit resolved, and a request to pull the case from the court’s archives was not immediately fulfilled.

Lajoie has spent his career with South Berwick police, starting as an officer in about 1979, according to media accounts from the early 1990s.

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