DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — A Sangerville man who was summoned on two counts of criminal trespass in June 2007 for exercising his dog at the Sangerville recreational field was found guilty of both counts Tuesday by a jury in Piscataquis County Superior Court.
Justice William Anderson fined James Stile, who represented himself during the daylong trial, $100 and $200 on the counts, respectively, along with surcharges.
At the trial’s conclusion, Stile, who is disabled and was accompanied in the courtroom by what he called his “service dog,” said he plans to appeal the verdict.
Stile claims he was denied the protection of federal law by being kicked off the field. He claimed the town violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and his civil rights by excluding him and his dog from public property. He also sought to show that he was targeted by Sangerville town officials. He said he personally had seen another dog and its owner on the same field.
“This case is about a man and his dog who had the courage to say no to authorities,” Stile said in his opening remarks. This is about local politics overshadowing personal rights, he said.
Piscataquis County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy told the jury that “the facts [of the case] are going to be pretty simple.”
In his remarks, Almy said the town developed a policy that excluded dogs from the recreational field for health reasons. He said Stile was advised of the policy yet chose to ignore it. When Stile appeared on the field with a dog on June 21, 2007, police arrived and asked him to leave. A summons was issued, and four days later Stile returned to the field with a dog, he said. Another summons was issued.
A stream of municipal officials and police called to the stand Tuesday testified that Stile was repeatedly advised of the town’s policy. At the same time, the majority of the witnesses testified that Stile had made them aware that he was disabled and that his dog was a service dog.
Stile, who had tape-recorded most of his confrontations with town officials and police, sought to show discrepancies between what actually was said and what was described in sworn statements.
Daniel Starbird, a licensed physiologist who began treating Stile after the incidents, said Stile has post-traumatic stress disorder from severe trauma he experienced throughout his childhood and early adult years. He testified that the dog has a calming effect on Stile and it serves a “very valuable function” for his client.
No official documents were presented at the trial to prove that Stile’s dog is a service dog.
While Stile said ADA allows him the use of any public place, Almy said, “That’s simply not the case.” He said ADA is not a blanket act that allows a person to go wherever he wishes even if lawful ordinances or policies prohibit it. Just because Stile is disabled doesn’t mean he is exempt from these restrictions, he explained.
“I think you can see through the truth here,” Stile said during his short closing argument. He told the jurors that if they found he is disabled and that his dog is a service dog, they could not find him guilty.
A complaint filed last year by Stile with the Maine Human Rights Commission regarding the matter has not yet been decided.