Release of felony suspects causes stir

Posted May 29, 2009, at 8:57 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith in a May 29 e-mail to the Bangor Daily News accused the District Attorney’s Office of allowing three felony suspects to walk out of jail this week without being arraigned in Machias District Court.

Not so, says the district attorney.

Michael Povich, district attorney for Washington and Hancock counties, said Friday that the three were not arraigned because of problems with how the arrests were handled — including incomplete paperwork.

The only person not to point the finger Friday was Lubec Town Administrator Maureen Glidden who blamed the release of the three men on a breakdown in communication between Smith and Povich.

“Sometimes things do not progress the way they should,” she said.

The bad feelings between the two departments began shortly after three men who had been arrested in the last week were released from jail because they were not brought before a judge in a timely fashion. All three still will have to appear in court to answer to the charges, but Smith is upset that the men are free to walk the streets until then. Court dates in each case have yet to be determined.

Two men from Lubec were arrested Saturday in connection with a series of break-ins over the past few weeks in the Lubec area. Adrian Thomas Rier, 31, was charged with receiving stolen property, and Dylan Brahm Lord, 23, was charged with violation of conditional release.

Bail for Rier at the time of his arrest was set at $5,000 cash, but later changed to $5,000 unsecured. Lord was held without bail because of the charge against him, according to jail records.

Because of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the District Attorney’s Office had until Wednesday to get them before a judge. When that didn’t happen, both Rier and Lord were released from jail Wednesday.

In an unrelated case, the Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday arrested Bracy Earl Ashby and charged him with aggravated drug trafficking. Ashby was released Thursday after he too did not appear in court in a timely fashion.

Smith said Friday that his department has taken a lot of heat over the men’s release.

At a meeting of the Lubec Board of Selectman on Thursday night, Smith took aim at the District Attorney’s Office in Machias and Ellsworth claiming officials there had not done their jobs.

He followed up his claim with an e-mail to the media that same night.

“District Attorney Mike Povich’s office has allowed THREE [suspected] felons to walk out of the Washington County jail in the last two days, because his office failed to file a complain[t] with the court,” the e-mail said. “This is unacceptable. Just ask the town office in Lubec. We in Washington County need your help. We can not fight the drug problem alone. The office of the district attorney [needs] to step up to the plate.”

Smith said that when he contacted Deputy District Attorney Carletta Bassano on Wednesday, May 27, and asked why Lord and Rier were not arraigned, he was told that the agency was in the process of moving its Machias office to new space and she did not have time to review the cases.

Smith said he did not buy that “excuse” because Bassano is based in Ellsworth, not Machias.

The sheriff also criticized the District Attorney’s Office for its handling of Ashby’s case.

Smith said that before the arrest he contacted Povich who told the sheriff that he needed a warrant to arrest Ashby.

“One, you don’t need a warrant to arrest on a felony [charge] … specifically addressing the drug laws which say definitely you don’t need a warrant,” Smith said. “Two, we tried to get a warrant. This has been sitting in his office since May 1st. We tried on two different occasions to contact two different district attorneys who blew it off.”

The sheriff said he and his deputies worked all weekend to arrest the men only to have them walk out of jail. He said that the District Attorney’s Office needs to work longer hours.

“The fact that they just didn’t get a chance to review the cases and three [suspected] felons walk out the back door and continue to terrorize the community in my estimation is appalling and I told Mr. Povich that,” Smith said.

Povich said Friday that he was surprised with Smith’s e-mail. He said he had spoken with the sheriff before his meeting with the selectmen and Smith seemed satisfied.

“I had a conversation with Donnie Smith [Thursday] and what we discussed and how we discussed it is completely at odds with what he released to the press,” Povich said. “It’s like, ‘Did I have a conversation with the same person?’ which I find extremely disturbing and unprofessional.”

The district attorney said that the police reports on Lord and Rier were not sufficient to arraign the men. Given the complexity of the cases, the reports were “certainly not” of the quality “that says, ‘OK, issue a complaint immediately,’” Povich said.

Povich said his office now has the finished police reports.

“We are reviewing [the reports] and when we are satisfied that the evidence supports the arrests, we will do what we do,” he said. “There is a big step from making arrests of supposedly many people doing many different crimes and not having a report we consider adequate,” the district attorney added.

Bassano said she had spoken with Smith on Wednesday and confirmed that the District Attorney’s Office was in the process of moving its office, but said she too was surprised by Smith’s e-mail. “I have to echo Michael. The content of his press release bears no resemblance to the conversation I had with him,” she said.

Povich also said he was surprised by Smith’s actions with regard to the Ashby case. Although two of Smith’s deputies are assigned to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, Povich said he still did not understand why Smith jumped into the middle of an MDEA investigation.

“Frankly, this is unacceptable freelancing and I take umbrage with this manner of doing this kind of business. The job of the prosecutor is sometimes to keep the police in line,” he said.

Nor did Povich understand why Smith was in such a big rush.

“If there was a big rush then the MDEA could have made the arrest last December when the crime was committed. And there is reason why they held off that we can’t share,” Povich said. “Yes we got the application, yes we probably should have worked on it quicker and I am working on that. I am not saying we didn’t drop the ball there. But it is not the kind of case where holding off for a couple of weeks after the police had held off for six months was going to make any difference.”

Povich said he was more concerned about due process. “Police who make arrests without warrants do so at their own peril. We cannot authorize a warrant until we receive a report of sufficient quality that we can make a charging decision and we are saying here we did not have that information,” he said.

The sheriff said he expected Povich to defend his office.

“But I am going to defend my officers who are taking the heat from this on the street, that is the issue I have. They don’t deserve this,” Smith said. “For [the district attorney] to say, well, ‘I just don’t have time,’ well, they damn well better start making time.”

Glidden said she had spoken with Povich and Smith and planned to have them meet with the selectmen sometime in June to resolve the dispute.

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