Panel: Dismiss dog trainer’s complaint

Posted March 17, 2009, at 8:10 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 11:01 a.m.

SANGERVILLE, Maine — The Maine Human Rights Commission staff has recommended that a discrimination complaint filed by James Stile of Sangerville against the town and several law enforcement officers be dismissed.

The commission is expected to rule on the matter on April 13. The complaint was on the March 2 agenda but that meeting was postponed because of a snowstorm.

Stile, who is disabled because of post-traumatic stress disorder not associated with military service, had been using the Sangerville Recreation Field to train his German shepherd dogs for police work and as companions for disabled people.

When town officials learned in the spring of 2007 that he was training his dogs on the field where children play, they asked him to stop because of health and safety concerns. When Stile failed to adhere to the request even after signs were posted that prohibited dogs inside the fenced baseball diamond and the children’s play area, the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department was called to assist. The ban on dogs excludes the parking areas, other open areas and along the shore and beach area, which Stile was encouraged to use, according to reports.

When Stile appeared on the field with a dog on June 21, 2007, police arrived and asked him to leave. A summons for criminal trespass was issued, and four days later Stile returned to the field with a dog, so another summons was issued.

A discrimination claim was filed soon after by Stile with the Maine Human Rights Commission against the town and Piscataquis County Sheriff John Goggin, Lt. Robert Young, Sgt. Michael Gould, and investigators David Wilson, Allen Emerson and James Kane, all of the Sheriff’s Department. Stile claimed he was denied the protection of federal law by being kicked off the field. He also claimed the town violated the Americans With Disabilities Act and his civil rights by excluding him and his dog from public property.

While the discrimination suit was pending, Stile appeared in court on the two counts of criminal trespass and was found guilty of those violations in November during a jury trial in Piscataquis County Superior Court.

To support their recommendation that the complaints be dismissed, the commission staff noted the town does not allow the general public to use the ball fields for these purposes and was not required to let Stile do so. The fact that Stile needs a service dog for psychological or physical support does not give him greater access to public places than the general public has, they wrote.

As to the law enforcement officers, the staff wrote that they are not liable because Stile was not exercising a right protected under the Maine Human Rights Act when he exercised and trained his dogs in the no-dog portions of the recreation field.

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