Lawsuit against former Wareham MA Selectmen going to trial

Jaime Rebhan | Wareham Week

A defamation lawsuit against two former Selectmen is heading to trial.

Wareham Police Officer Charles H. Pillsbury, IV, and his wife, Cara Pillsbury, filled a lawsuit against former-Selectmen Bruce Sauvageau and Brenda Eckstrom in 2010 for comments each made during September 2008 and June 2009 Selectmen’s meetings.

The Pillsburys’ lawyer, Andrew J. Gambaccini of Worcester-based Reardon, Joyce & Akerson, argues that Sauvageau violated or attempted to violate Officer Pillsbury’s rights through “threats, intimidation or coercion” when he accused Officer Pillsbury of “acting in his official capacity with racist motivations,” according to court documents.

Sauvageau twice attempted to have the claims against him thrown out of court, arguing that his comments were protected under the First Amendment.

On August 29 of this year, a Justice of the Superior Court determined that “there are genuine issues of material fact that can only be resolved by a fact finder at trial,” and thus, the lawsuit is heading to trial.

“I’ve always felt that public officials, an elected public official, should have as much right to speak their mind” as any citizen, Sauvageau told Wareham Week. “If that’s not the case, we’ve turned a pretty dark corner in this country as far as free speech is concerned.”

In September 2008, Officer Pillsbury stopped resident Paul Andrade for a traffic violation. According to court documents, Officer Pillsbury claims that “Andrade refused to comply with his orders, and he feared that Andrade was returning to his vehicle to retrieve a weapon,” and thus sprayed Andrade with pepper spray and arrested him.

Andrade appeared before the Board of Selectmen days later and complained that the use of force was not justified.

“I notice you’re a black man,” Sauvageau told Andrade, according to court documents. “That was your first mistake.”

Sauvageau told Andrade and the listening audience that Officer Pillsbury — whose late mother served with Sauvageau on the Board of Selectmen — was hired due to nepotism, and that he knew from “personal family experience” that Officer Pillsbury was a “disgrace” to the Police Department. He also called the officer a “gutless coward,” according to court documents.

The lawsuit alleges that Eckstrom, who “accused Officer Pillsbury of being unfaithful to his wife” at a June 2009 Selectmen’s meeting, made “unprovoked and unwarranted” statements that were “false and made with malice.”

“The claims against Brenda Eckstrom stand ready to go to trial,” Gambaccini said.

Eckstrom did not respond to a request for comment.

A trial date has not yet been set in Plymouth Superior Court.

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