AYER — Specifics were not immediately available overnight, but the Ayer Board of Selectmen met in an emergency closed door session late Tuesday night to discuss “litigation strategy” after acknowledging a civil rights suit may be filed against Ayer Police Chief William Murray and the town of Ayer.
Attorney Eric Tennen of Swomley & Tennen, LLP in Boston confirmed Wednesday that he has not yet filed litigation on his clients’ behalf -husband and wife John and Ashley King.
Though there was initial hesitation to disclose the potential plaintiffs’ names, Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand read aloud the Kings names as the complaining party. No other details about the nature of the potential causes of action were revealed.
On May 15, the Ayer Police arrested Level 3 sex offender John M. King at 6 Whitcomb Ave. and charged him with failing to properly register his residency in town. The Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB) determines whether an adjudicated offender is labeled a Level 1 (mild-), Level 2 (moderate-), and Level 3 (high- likelihood of repetitive offenses) sex offender.
Around the time of King’s arrest, Murray had expressed concerns that the town had not yet properly implemented the town’s newly adopted sex offender residency restriction bylaw, passed by Town Meeting last fall. The bylaw outlines the process by which Level 2 and 3 sex offenders may be blocked from establishing residence in many sections of town.
King’s address as stated on the SOR website on May 16 and again on Aug. 22 is 32 Myrick Lane in Harvard — a home owned by William and Sharon McHugh (Ashley King’s parents).
The 6 Whitcomb Ave. address in Ayer where King was arrested is also owned by the McHughs as trustees of the “SBAJ Realty Trust.”
King was featured on the Massachusetts State Police’s June 2009 Top 10 “Most Wanted Sex Offenders” list for failure to then register his whereabouts. Within short order it was determined that King was already in custody on another charge at the time.
King was convicted of rape in 1999 and sentenced to six years in prison. The SORB website lists King’s offenses as two counts of rape and one count of indecent assault and battery on a person aged 14 or older.
Ayer Town Meeting approved the sex offender residency restrictive bylaw in October 2011. Ayer’s bylaw bans Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders from establishing residence within 1,000 feet of various protected areas, including schools, parks, bus stops, and senior citizen residences for any consecutive five-day period, or for 14 days in the aggregate in any one year.
The 6 Whitcomb Ave. home is located within 1,000 of both Pirone Park and the Ayer elderly housing complex on Pond Street. It’s unclear how long King allegedly lived at the Whitcomb Avenue address before his arrest.
In a Feb. 21 letter to Ayer Town Clerk John Canney, the Attorney General’s Office notified the town that the bylaw passed basic legal muster and that, to take effect, the bylaw needed to be posted in five public places in town.
Murray appealed to the selectmen in an April 20 email for the bylaw to go into effect, advising that the Ayer Police had been contacted on April 19 by a Level 3 offender who wanted to move into 6 Whitcomb Ave.
Murray never identified King by name, but his description matched King’s physical description on the SORB website.
“This man is 6-foot-6-inches tall, weighs 300 pounds and has a history of violent/property crimes!” wrote Murray.
“The neglect of the town clerk has seriously jeopardized the safety of this community and the officers of the police department,” wrote Murray. “We now have a behemoth of a Level 3 offender with violent and unpredictable tendencies living at 6 Whitcomb Avenue!”
Murray also advised the selectmen that emergency personnel responded to the Whitcomb Avenue home for a “medical” call in which the brother of the “offender” was allegedly injured when falling down stairs when fighting with the “offender.
“This offender may have moved to town regardless of the bylaw but having it in place would certainly have given him pause to consider his choice and would have reduced the choices of where he could reside,” said Murray.
Ayer Town Clerk John Canney posted the bylaw on April 24. On May 1, Murray told the selectmen that he’d “dodged the bullet” with the formal enactment of the bylaw.
After disclosing the potential plaintiff’s names Tuesday night, the board unanimously agreed to amend its agenda and to enter closed door session at meeting’s end.
Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand told the board that executive cover was needed because the matter “if discussed publicly would be detrimental” to the town’s potential litigation position.