March 6, 2013

A Kennebec Journal investigation: Looking down the barrel of a gun, part 2 of 2

Winthrop town attorney denies knowledge of a police sting involving his son. Was it ‘vigilante justice’ or good police work?

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

Winthrop Town Attorney Lee Bragg seemed taken aback when asked in December if he knew about an August police sting to nail the person who stole his 26-year-old son’s golf clubs.

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Additional Photos Below

Related headlines

Related Documents

Winthrop Town Manager Jeffrey Woolston's response to Joel Coon's complaint
Joel Coon's complaint to Winthrop
Winthrop Police Chief Joseph Young's Statement
Gardiner Police Department report on the Aug. 27 incident
Oxford police report for Ross Bragg's stolen golf clubs

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Joel Coon
Lives in Dresden; pharmacist for VA Maine Healthcare System-Togus
Joseph Young Sr.
Winthrop police chief 
Lee Bragg
Winthrop town attorney
James Toman
Gardiner police chief

 

ALSO:

Ross Bragg: Son of Lee Bragg, employee at Sunday River

Nolan Coon: Lives in Washington state; brother of Joel Coon

Michael Durham: Gardiner police detective 

Stacey Blair: Gardiner police sergeant

“I know nothing about it,” “I can’t say,” “I can’t imagine why you’d be calling me” and “I have no knowledge,” were among Bragg’s responses in an interview.

Those reactions, however, are contradicted by Winthrop Police Chief Joseph Young’s account of the sting. 

According to Young, Bragg called him seeking advice more than an hour after the golf clubs were reported stolen. The clubs were swiped from Ross Bragg’s car more than a month earlier at the ski resort where he works.

Young said Bragg was frustrated with the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office response and feared the thief would soon sell the clubs to someone else, so Young agreed to help set up a sting operation to get them back. 

Not only did Young say Lee Bragg first contacted him about the clubs, Young said he talked to the town attorney after the sting.

Lee Bragg “was pleased with the way it went down,” Young said in a December interview.

Ross Bragg, the attorney’s son, was also pleased. At 6:15 p.m. on Aug. 27, about 45 minutes after Joel Coon found himself face down in a grocery store parking lot with a gun pointed at him, Bragg posted on his Facebook page: “sting operation was a success!!”

It was for him — he got his clubs back. But was it good law enforcement?

Urey Patrick, a former FBI agent who lives in Winterport and runs a firearms and deadly force consulting business, said Coon was “an unknown person of reasonably possible criminal involvement.”

Patrick said Young’s actions “were not unreasonable to achieve the legitimate purpose of preempting resistance and preventing the necessity to use greater and injurious force to control Mr. Coon and sort out what if any criminal involvement he had.” 

But a Florida law enforcement expert who reviewed case documents for the Kennebec Journal said Young made many mistakes, including rushing the sting and making it “a lot more dangerous than it had to be.”

“It sounds like he rushed into it because that was just the way the victim set it up,” said Chuck Drago. “He wasn’t able to take the time to pre-plan it.

“And that’s the biggest mistake of the whole thing, I think,” said Drago, a former assistant police chief in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who has a law enforcement consulting firm.

And there are issues that go beyond law enforcement techniques, others say.

Zachary Heiden, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, who also reviewed case files, said the sting and its result — a loaded gun aimed at an innocent man — was an unnecessary response to a petty crime.

“There are two important issues here: the use of force in a manner that wasn’t effective under the circumstances, but also the abuse of power,” Heiden said. “Police officers are given special authority, but that should make them more responsible to the law and not less.”

The problem boils down to an issue of entitlement — from Lee Bragg, to Young, to Winthrop’s town government, according to David Sanders, a Livermore Falls-based criminal defense attorney who has served as vice chairman of the state Board of the Overseers of the Bar.

Sanders raised concerns of favoritism, saying if it were his child’s clubs that were stolen, Young “would laugh” and “certainly would not have gotten involved in the case.” 

“You have to start asking: What the hell was he doing there?” Sanders said. “He’s a town employee. There’s no part of this crime that occurred in the town. He was not asked by another town where the crime was occurring to become involved. It’s vigilante justice, that’s what it is.” 

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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The location where Winthrop Police Chief Joe Young confronted Joel Coons, of Dresden, with a pistol in the parking lot of the Gardiner Hannaford on Aug. 27.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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The blue Ping golf bag that held the set of golf clubs stolen from Ross Bragg and acquired from a pawn shop by Nolan Coon had a patch from the Augusta Country Club in Manchester and was made up mostly of Titleist clubs, but had a Ping putter and a Minuzo driver.

Contributed photo



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