A college police officer quit amid allegations of sexual harassment, but three years later another police department hired him to investigate the sexual assaults.
Officer David Laudon worked at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Police Department in 2010. One Sunday after midnight, he allegedly offered a 20-year-old student a ride to his residence in his cruiser, according to a report by incident. When she came out, Laudon hugged her and “grabbed her chest,” the student said.
She wore a trench coat and boots because of the weather. Later, the officer texted her, “These boots are making me hot, and I want to sleep with you!”
After that, the student reported continued harassment. Laudon allegedly groped her again during a fire alarm, this time in front of other students. He called and texted her several times. After she filed a complaint with the administration, he continued to call the student and her friends, trying to “find out who had filed the complaint against him”.
The officer resigned when his department opened an investigation into the misconduct, according to local station WBUR. But three years later, he started a new job with the police department in Blackstone, Mass., just 50 miles away.
Laudon was hired to investigate sexual assaults and provide security for students at the Blackstone Police Department, where he still works.
A records file from the department’s personnel page listed him as a “sexual assault investigator” through Monday. On Tuesday, following local reports of his record, the title was removed. He is still listed as the department’s drug recognition expert, ALICE instructor, and contact for child safety seats.
Philip Stinson, a professor who studies police crime at Bowling Green State University, said Newsweek that the Laudon model is common in the United States. Small municipal departments have a particular incentive to ignore imperfections in an officer’s record if it means they can fill a position more quickly and cheaply.
“A lot of these agencies like to hire people who have already completed their Police Academy training or, in some states, would include state-level certification,” Stinson said. “If they have that, it’s less of a problem for them. They don’t have to pay them to go to the Academy and waste that time and that cost.”
Some departments don’t have extensive background checks, while others simply choose to ignore past misconduct. Even if agents lose their certification, their new employers may never know.
“There is a decertification registry, but it’s voluntary,” Stinson said. “Many potential law enforcement employers don’t check with them, and many states don’t provide information to this registry.”
In cases like Laudon’s, where an officer resigns during a misconduct review, the investigation could remain under wraps.
Stinson said: “Sometimes what will happen is that they won’t even finish writing an internal discipline investigation report because the officer is no longer employed there – they haven’t jurisdiction over them administratively. So sometimes there’s no paper trail.”
WBUR uncovered more than a dozen current police officers in Massachusetts who had previously been fired or resigned from another department after a misconduct investigation. But the problem isn’t just in Massachusetts.
A 2020 study in the Yale Law Journal found that over a 30-year period, 3% of all officers in the state of Florida had previously been fired from another department, an average of just under 1,100 officers per year.
A 2016 report by Stinson and The Wall Street Journal revealed that former Florida police officer Claudia Wright lost her badge in 2011, after forging her grandmother’s signature to buy a car. Her plea agreement specified that she was permanently giving up her police certificate without “any possibility of reinstatement”. But a few years later, she was working at the sheriff’s office in Richmond City, Virginia.
And in Ohio, officer Timothy Loehmann – who fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice for carrying a toy gun in 2014 – had been deemed emotionally unstable and unfit for duty in a former police role.
Rehiring officers who have already been ousted for misconduct can be destructive to a community, Stinson said.
“It can cause problems in the community in terms of police legitimacy,” he said. “If citizens don’t trust their local police, they may not cooperate when asked to help the police. They may not call the police when they themselves have an emergency…they are just not going to want to have anything to do with the police.”
Newsweek contacted the Laudon and Blackstone Police Chief for comment.