Sarah Letendre is spending her time trying to piece together a brand-new life for herself and her two small children. Technically she is homeless, living alone in a hotel, trying to find a job with her master’s degree in social work and a permanent place to live. Her days as a nurturing stay-at-home mom are over.
On the evening of July 10, Sarah, 34, and her police officer husband Ronald, 46, were involved in a domestic dispute at their home in Rollinsford, New Hampshire. Ronald, who is an officer at the neighboring Dover Police Department, placed a call asking for a welfare check on his wife.
Responding officers were told by their fellow cop that during a discussion about a possible divorce Sarah became the aggressor and she needed a “psychiatric evaluation.” Officer Letendre, a former mixed martial arts fighter who outweighs his wife by 100 pounds, alleged that Sarah bit and scratched him and was on drugs. She said he had thrown her down, placed a knee on her neck and violently thrust his elbow into her ribcage.
Sarah was arrested, and officers took her to Wentworth-Douglas Hospital for that psychological evaluation. Documents show she received a diagnosis of “closed fracture of multiple ribs of left side.” Doctors apparently saw no need for a psych evaluation, and her discharge papers make no mention of illegal drug use.
Along with her arrest came an automatic “no contact” order, meaning she needed to steer clear of her husband who had quickly petitioned for custody of their sleeping children.
Sarah’s sister, Jessica Newman, told me the arresting officers drove Sarah home in the middle of the night and left her in the parking lot wearing only a tank top and shorts, no shoes. When Sarah went inside to get shoes, her purse and phone so she could drive to a friend’s house, her husband called police to report the no contact violation. The same Rollinsford police officers responded, and as they tried to get her out of the car to take her into custody, a frightened Sarah, nursing four fractured ribs, sped away, outside their jurisdiction. Once she got a lawyer, Sarah voluntarily turned herself in and has now documented what she says were incidents of domestic abuse going back more than two years.
Now Sarah is only allowed to briefly see her kids a few times a week and only after submitting to drug testing, which her sister says is totally unnecessary. A custody hearing is set for the end of August.
Three weeks into her ordeal Sarah wrote on Facebook: “My husband broke 4 of my ribs and used his power and knowledge as a police officer to have my children taken away from me, and brand me as a drug addict and prostitute. Apparently, saying those things means what he did to me was justified in some way.”
I’m sure there is more to this she-said/he-said story, but officer Letendre is not available to comment. He is on paid leave. Neither the Dover nor Rollinsford police departments have issued statements past their initial announcement of internal investigations.
Sarah’s sister told me the Letendre’s children, 5 and 2 years old, have asked their mother heart-wrenching questions like, “Why did you leave?” and “Why can’t we all go home?” How does a mother explain to kids that daddy has a gun and mommy is afraid of him?
This is just one story about domestic violence inside a police officer’s home. How often it happens isn’t known because no agency keeps track. Dubious studies from 20 years ago concluded that 40% of police officer families experience domestic violence compared to 10% of civilian families. A more recent 2016 study simply concluded that officer-involved domestic violence is a high percentage “national problem,” made worse because of cops’ “code of silence,” “improper investigations by police,” and “less than diligent prosecutors” who may need to rely on offending officers for other cases.
In Sarah’s case, she faces criminal charges. Her husband faces none, according to the prosecutor in charge of the investigation. Not so far anyway.
Domestic violence in this era of pandemic and civil unrest is increasing in every type of household. We have every reason to believe cases of officer-involved domestic violence are on the rise, too. Every police chief in the country needs to take notice and warn officers that covering up such violence is just as bad as committing it.