Transparency in drug case lacking

There are many questions that continue to surround the Aug. 3 arrest of Peterborough Fire and Rescue Department’s ambulance service clinical director Jeremy Bouchard, who has since resigned. Bouchard is charged with felony theft of narcotics intended for ambulance patients between August 2012 and August 2013, as well as felony possession of a narcotic drug.

In March, Bouchard admitted to state officials that he had stolen narcotics from both the Peterborough and Antrim fire departments, according to an April 26 letter written to Bouchard by Commissioner of the N.H. Department of Safety John Barthelmes about the 90-day suspension of Bouchard’s paramedic license. Bouchard allegedly admitted to stealing, but not using the drugs, during a meeting with state fact-finders, who were convened to probe what Barthelmes referred to as “numerous alleged violations of the EMS statute...” — including unethical behavior that is harmful or detrimental to the public; illegal use of drugs; and violation of state or federal laws related to the practice of emergency medical personnel.

After that, Bouchard continued to work for the town of Peterborough, though town officials say not as a paramedic, drawing on his annual salary of $54,080 for another five months. Why is that, and how is that possible?

Barthelmes’ letter makes it clear that Fire Chief Joe Lenox would be notified of Bouchard’s EMS license suspension, and that Lenox would be required to write monthly letters about Bouchard’s compliance with the terms of the suspension as long as Bouchard remained an employee of the town of Peterborough. It is unclear why someone who stole drugs intended for patients, while being employed to care for those patients, was kept on the salary rolls as a clinical director and then, after his license suspension expired, was allowed to resume work as a paramedic. Town officials have declined to talk about the case in any detail.

The drugs Bouchard was later charged with stealing from Peterborough ambulances belonged to Monadnock Community Hospital and are valued at more than $1,500, according to complaints filed at the 8th Circuit Court, Jaffrey, on Aug. 8. Bouchard was suspended with pay after his arrest. The N.H. Attorney General’s Office has said it is investigating the case with Peterborough police.

Criminal investigations, it’s true, do take time. And we clearly have yet to learn all the facts in this case. But there are some major questions that ought to be addressed outside of the court proceedings. When there is an admission of guilt to the state that drugs were stolen, why did it take so much time to bring charges forward and why weren’t charges immediately filed by authorities in March when Bouchard’s license was suspended? Presumably, Peterborough town officials knew of the state suspension, yet they allowed him to return to the same position with the same access to drugs. Why did they do this? And is Bouchard accused of stealing drugs after his license was reinstated on June 3?

Bouchard has submitted a plea of not guilty to the charges against him. Hopefully, we’ll find out more at the Sept. 10 probable cause hearing. But it’d be nice if town officials would have been more transparent on this issue from the beginning.

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