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Charges dropped against Northampton man in alleged jump rope assault; says he's considering legal action

Lance Gouvan, right, and his mother Joann Sheaff .

CAROL LOLLIS

Lance Gouvan, right, and his mother Joann Sheaff . CAROL LOLLIS

By BOB DUNN @BDGazette
Thursday, September 12, 2013
(Published in print: Friday, September 13, 2013)

“I’m still in shock,” Lance Gouvan, 35, said outside of the Hampshire County Courthouse Thursday morning. “I just want to get back to my life.”

Gouvan and co-defendant Megan R. Bonny were arrested in July 2012 after the girl, a residential client at Northampton Center for Children and Families on Pomeroy Terrace, told police that the pair approached her while she was playing with a jump rope behind the center. The Northampton Center for Children and Families is a nonprofit agency that works with children with behavioral and emotional problems.

The girl told police that the pair threatened her with violence if she yelled for help, used the jump rope to tie her by the neck to a tree and left her there.

Days later, court-appointed attorneys for Gouvan and Bonny said the allegations were false.

“This case really hinges on the word of one troubled young girl,” Jonah Goldsmith, who represented Gouvan, said at the time.

In a statement Thursday, the Northwestern district attorney’s office said the decision to drop the charges was “consonant with the interests of justice and with the standards of prosecutorial ethics.”

“After a careful review of all available evidence, the commonwealth concluded that it did not reasonably anticipate being able to prove the allegations against Mr. Gouvan and Ms. Bonny beyond a reasonable doubt,” the district attorney’s office said.

Goldsmith said by telephone Thursday afternoon, “We’re happy the prosecutor’s office took a look at the case and the state of the evidence and came to the conclusion that the case had to be dismissed.

“I’m hopeful we can all move forward.”

Attempts to reach Bonny’s attorney, John Drake of Northampton, for comment were unsuccessful.

The pair originally faced charges of attempted murder, kidnapping of a child, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (rope) and two counts of assault and battery.

The attempted murder and kidnapping charges were dropped in September 2012 after a grand jury found no probable cause to indict the pair.

The assault charges remained while DNA testing was conducted on the rope.

Gouvan said Thursday that the description of the male suspect the girl gave to police didn’t match his own.

He said the girl gave the wrong hair and eye colors and told police the suspect had no tattoos and a distinctive tongue stud. Gouvan has tattoos on his arms and no such piercing, he said.

Gouvan said he was contacted Wednesday and informed that there were no traces of his DNA on the jump rope and that the remaining charges would be dropped.

“This is a case that didn’t happen,” Gouvan said.

Gouvan said he has been serving out the conditions of his pre-trial probation, including house arrest at his mother’s home in Monson, since last September. He said he and Bonny were in the “wrong place at the wrong time” when they became the target of the child’s accusations.

“My life is demolished,” he said. “Everything got taken away from me.”

Gouvan said Thursday he’s considering filing charges against the state for continuing to pursue the case when the evidence didn’t support it.

“They had to dig themselves out of the hole they dug,” he said of the DA’s office.

Gouvan said prosecutors offered him a plea deal that would have spared him jail time but put him on probation for five years.

He said he refused, not willing to plead guilty to something he did not do.

He said he didn’t know why the child would apparently fabricate her story, but suspects she has “severe mental issues.”

“She fabricated a story to get out of trouble,” he said.

Gouvan’s mother, JoAnn Sheaff, said Thursday, “I hope his name is cleared and he can move on.”

Sheaff said seeing her son on house arrest when she knew he wasn’t guilty was stressful.

“I lost sleep thinking that he would go to jail for something he didn’t do,” she said.

Gouvan said he wants to get back to the type of work he was doing before his arrest, like helping to organize cleanup efforts in public spaces, but in the aftermath of his arrest and detention, he has to start over and try to raise money to get those projects off the ground.

“I’ve got to start from the bottom again,” he said.

“I want to fill my life with positive things.”

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com.

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