Friday, May 24, 2013
By Susan McMillan firstname.lastname@example.org
WINTHROP — The town council will review a 2003 policy that gives Winthrop police officers statewide arrest powers.
Winthrop Police Chief Joseph Young Sr.
At the request of some councilors, the policy will be on the agenda next month following a Kennebec Journal investigation into a sting operation conducted by Winthrop Police Chief Joseph Young Sr. in the Hannaford parking lot in Gardiner. During the August sting, Young drew his gun on an unarmed man who was suspected of selling stolen golf clubs but turned out to be innocent.
The stolen clubs, which belonged to Ross Bragg, the son of Winthrop's town attorney, Lee Bragg, had been purchased at a pawn shop. The innocent man, Joel Coon, of Dresden, was not charged, and he later filed a complaint about Young's conduct with the town of Winthrop.
Winthrop resident Charles Jacques asked councilors to conduct an "independent, objective, third-party analysis" of Young's actions. He said his own sister was killed 27 years ago by police officers using excessive force.
Young was cleared of wrongdoing in an investigation by Town Manager Jeff Woolston, and councilors who spoke about the issue at a Town Council meeting Monday night said they do not believe Young violated any laws or municipal policies.
Even so, Council Vice Chairwoman Sarah Fuller said she was surprised at the broadness of the town's statewide-arrest policy and asked for a review.
"I am one of the councilors that would like to have a review of the policy, just because we owe it to our law enforcement and our citizens and everyone out there to make sure they have the proper parameters and don't put themselves in situations that no one needs to be in," Fuller said.
Following publication of the Kennebec Journal's two-part story, Council Chairman Kevin Cookson said constituents who called him have relayed concerns about Young being out of police uniform and outside Winthrop conducting the sting operation, which Gardiner police said was done for a "family friend."
Councilor Larry Fitzgerald said he does not want to second-guess Young's actions in Gardiner and is still thinking about the incident as it relates to the statewide-arrest policy.
"Is it the best use of town funds to investigate a crime that didn't occur in Winthrop, that didn't involve the citizens or taxpayers of Winthrop?" Fitzgerald said. "I don't know. Probably not, in my view. And maybe that means we need to tighten the policy."
A Maine law passed in 2003 allowed municipalities to authorize their police officers to make arrests outside their jurisdiction, as long as the officers work full-time and meet other qualifications.
The Winthrop Town Council voted 6-0 in July 2003 to grant that power to Winthrop's officers. Cookson was the only current councilor on the council at that time.
The sting operation, which took place Aug. 27 in the parking lot at the Gardiner Hannaford supermarket, was an effort to recover a set of golf clubs stolen from Ross Bragg's car at the Sunday River ski resort in Oxford County.
Young, dressed in plainclothes and posing as Ross Bragg's father, accompanied Bragg to meet with a person selling the clubs via the online classifieds website Craigslist. Bragg, a Manchester resident, identified the clubs as his and then Young twice ordered Coon to the ground.
Coon, who says he was frozen with confusion, did not comply until Young pulled his gun and pointed it at him.
Coon's brother, Nolan Coon, proved he had bought the clubs at a pawn shop and neither were not charged.
Jacques described the operation as "a police-state tactic" and said the Town Council has implicitly endorsed it, harming Winthrop's reputation.
"The fact that the town government is remaining essentially silent on the matter is making it look — is giving the appearance certainly — that there's a cover-up or a whitewash," Jacques said.
Cookson said Winthrop's charter prohibits the councilors from interfering with the town manager's appointees, of whom the police chief is one. A majority of councilors would have to vote to take any action.
Young didn't return a call Tuesday seeking comment.
Susan McMillan — 621-5645