Charge dropped against Millinocket lawyer

Posted May 18, 2009, at 4:03 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine – The criminal mischief charge against a lawyer from Millinocket whose truck was “booted” last week for unpaid parking tickets has been dismissed, his attorney announced on Friday.

A.J. Greif, a Bangor attorney, said on Friday that the Penobscot County District Attorney’s Office “declined to prosecute” his client Michael Harman, 48.

Harman was charged with criminal mischief on May 5 after he reportedly damaged a Police Department vehicle immobilization device, known as a “Denver Boot,” when he attempted to drive away with it attached to his 2000 GMC pickup.

In a Bangor Daily News article on the incident published on May 7, Bangor police said the Denver Boot is typically clasped onto the front driver’s-side wheel to prevent a vehicle from being moved after an owner has failed to pay three or more outstanding parking tickets. Police also said a notice is placed on the front windshield to alert the driver to contact the Parking Enforcement Division before attempting to move the booted vehicle.

“In fact, the boot was on the right rear tire of the Harman vehicle and the [Parking] Enforcement Division had placed a small purple card underneath his windshield wiper such that only an inch of that card projected above the dashboard,” Greif said Friday in a letter e-mailed to the BDN.

Greif said his client had approached his truck from the driver’s side, was in a hurry to get to another court engagement in Lincoln, and was on the phone with a friend and did not see the boot or the notice before trying to drive away.

The truck came to an abrupt halt when the boot lodged itself under the truck’s wheel well.

Police, who said the damaged boot would cost $480 to replace, charged Harmon with criminal mischief.

After he was summoned, Harmon paid his unpaid parking tickets on the spot and “both he and his vehicle were released,” police reported.

Greif said Friday that his client could only be summoned for criminal mischief if he was aware the boot was on his truck and still drove off “in reckless disregard of that knowledge,” which he said was not the case.

Greif said his client even asked the two Parking Enforcement Division officers who arrived on the scene why the boot had not been placed on the driver’s side where he could have seen it. Only after one of the officers indicated that a notice had also been left on the windshield did Harmon see the purple card, Greif said.

He said damage to Harman’s truck has been estimated at $2,057.84.

“This foolish criminal mischief summons also damaged Mr. Harman’s reputation, as the import of the initial stories in the press was that Mr. Harman, knowing that his car had been booted, chose to drive away anyway,” Greif said in his e-mail to the BDN.

He said television news also reported the incident and national radio talk-show host Howie Carr “ran with the story for several hours.”

Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy confirmed Friday night that the charge against Harman had been dropped, though he said that only occurred after careful consideration of the case.

“We recognized there were problems in proving intent,” Almy said in a telephone interview. He said that the evidence strongly suggested that Harman was not aware that his truck had been booted.

“Even a witness was able to confirm that the placard, if the placard was there, was not really visible,” Almy said.

“Also, it doesn’t make sense that he would [attempt to drive off with the boot engaged] knowing that it would cause substantial damage to his vehicle,” Almy said.

“I don’t want people to think the charge was dismissed because [Harman] is a lawyer.”

BDN writer Dawn Gagnon contributed to this report.

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