March 6, 2013

A Kennebec Journal investigation: Looking down the barrel of a gun, part 1 of 2

Winthrop police chief drew his pistol on an innocent man over stolen golf clubs in a sting set up as a favor to a 'family friend' -- the son of the town attorney

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

Joel Coon sat on the tailgate of his GMC Suburban, golf clubs at his side. He watched the younger man, who he knew as “Danny,” get out of the passenger side of a black sedan.

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Additional Photos Below

Related headlines

Related Documents

Gardiner Police Department report on the Aug. 27 incident
Joel Coon's complaint to Winthrop
Winthrop Town Manager Jeffrey Woolston's response to Joel Coon's complaint
Winthrop Police Chief Joseph Young's Statement
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

Danny was followed by an older man in a black T-shirt, shorts and baseball cap who said he was Danny’s father.

Coon had agreed to meet the pair in the Gardiner Hannaford supermarket parking lot. The father and son wanted to take a look at the golf clubs, which Coon was selling.

Coon froze as he was ordered by Danny’s father to drop to the ground. He didn’t know if it was a prank or if he was being robbed.

Seconds later, Coon was looking down the barrel of a gun.

He finally went down. Two Gardiner police officers closed in.

Coon would find out later that he had been caught up in an off-the-cuff sting operation arranged by Winthrop Police Chief Joseph Young Sr. — who played Danny’s father — and Ross Bragg, the man Coon knew as Danny. 

No one involved disagrees that shortly after 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 27, Young drew his gun on an unarmed man who hadn’t committed a crime.

But Coon, 34, of Dresden, a pharmacist for VA Maine Healthcare System-Togus, didn’t steal the clubs. Coon was vindicated within minutes after police confirmed his brother bought the clubs at an Augusta pawn shop 10 days earlier.  

Gardiner Detective Michael Durham, who was at the scene, told Coon the man who pulled the gun on him was Young. He said the younger man was a family friend of the police chief, but didn’t tell Coon his name.

The younger man turned out to be Bragg, the 26-year-old son of attorney Lee Bragg, of Manchester.

Lee Bragg is Winthrop’s town attorney and a partner at the Augusta office of Bernstein Shur. The law firm’s website says he manages the largest municipal law practice in the state, with about 40 municipalities as clients. 

The elder Bragg said in a December interview he didn’t know anything about what happened in the Gardiner parking lot in August. But Young maintains that Lee Bragg, whom he’s known since becoming Winthrop’s chief 26 years ago, made the call that initiated the operation. 

Coon filed a complaint with the town of Winthrop after the parking lot sting, and Town Manager Jeffrey Woolston conducted an investigation clearing Young of wrongdoing. Law enforcement experts told the Kennebec Journal that Young was justified in pulling his gun and it doesn’t appear any laws were broken.

Even so, some of those experts question Bragg’s denial of knowledge about the sting, his son’s involvement, the operation’s hasty planning and the fact a gun was pulled. 

A law enforcement consultant who reviewed incident documents for the Kennebec Journal said Young rushed and mishandled the sting.

Chuck Drago, a former assistant police chief in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who runs a law enforcement consulting firm, said Young needs “a lot more training in how to conduct a covert operation or undercover operation.”

“There’s a list of mistakes or failures on his part in conducting that operation that made it a lot more dangerous than it had to be,” Drago said. 

Stolen golf clubs

The golf clubs were stolen July 21 from Ross Bragg’s car, parked near White Cap Condominiums at the Sunday River ski resort in the Oxford County town of Newry. 

Bragg, who works at Sunday River, wouldn’t say in a recent interview if the car was locked, but the Oxford County sheriff’s report said he found the back door of the car open and the clubs gone. 

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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