State trooper’s case ends in mistrial

Posted Aug. 17, 2009, at 9:18 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A Superior Court justice declared a mistrial Friday after a jury could not reach a verdict in the trial of a Maine state trooper charged with official oppression.

Trooper Bryan S. Higgins, 41, of Glenburn is charged with the Class E misdemeanor.

Higgins allegedly acted in his official capacity as a trooper while not on duty and not in uniform in a dispute with a man over the possible sale of a boat in May 2008. The trooper, according to prosecutors, followed the man in his cruiser, pulled him over and issued him a ticket for criminal speeding — going 30 mph or more over the speed limit.

The criminal speeding charge against the potential boat buyer was dropped eventually. It is the practice of the Bangor Daily News not to name individuals identified by law enforcement as victims of crimes.

If convicted, Higgins, a trooper for 19 years, would face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

The jury deliberated for 4½ hours Friday before informing Justice Michaela Murphy about 5:30 p.m. that jurors were hopelessly deadlocked. Testimony in the trial took place Thursday. Closing arguments and instructions to the jury were completed Friday morning.

“We have not yet made a decision about whether we will retry the case or not,” Assistant Attorney General Michael Colleran, who prosecuted the case, said Monday.

The Maine Attorney General’s Office took over the case at the request of Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy, according to Colleran, because Almy’s office was responsible for prosecuting the alleged victim for criminal speeding even though the charges later were dropped.

“We were pleased that some, maybe most, of the jurors saw that there were serious questions about whether Trooper Higgins committed any crime at all that day,” Higgins’ attorney Walter McKee said Monday in an e-mail. “Everyone we spoke with said the same thing about Trooper Higgins — he was nothing but the most honest, decent, hardworking trooper — he was right out of Mark Trail or Dudley Do-Right.”

Both attorneys said they did not know how many jurors voted guilty or not guilty.

Higgins’ job status has not been made public. He is not working now out of the Orono barracks.

Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the state police, said Monday that there is a personnel matter pending concerning Higgins but he could not provide any information about it.

“When it is resolved,” McCausland said, “and final action is taken, that action will be public information.”

The charge against Higgins stemmed from the incident on May 28, 2008, when the alleged victim came to Higgins’ home to look at a boat the trooper was selling, the attorneys for both sides said in their closing statements. The potential buyer gave Higgins $1,700 to hold while he took the boat out for a test ride.

When the man brought the boat back, McKee told the jury, he decided not to buy it and Higgins returned the money. Higgins then noticed that the propeller had been damaged. The man offered the trooper $100, but when Higgins said it amounted to more than that, the man jumped into his car and left with all of his cash.

Higgins followed him in his cruiser. When it became obvious that the man was speeding, McKee said, the trooper pulled him over. Higgins radioed for backup, but the nearest trooper was 30 to 40 miles away.

At that point, Higgins handcuffed the alleged speeder, put him in the cruiser and went home, the defense attorney said. At the house, Higgins went upstairs, put on his uniform, got his weapon and badge and came back downstairs to issue the man a ticket.

McKee told the jury that what Higgins did was not illegal.

The prosecutor disagreed. He said that the trooper exceeded his authority when he initiated the chase in his cruiser in civilian clothes and when he frisked the potential buyer and seized the money he felt he was owed for the damage to the propeller.

“This case is about limits on authority,” the prosecutor said in his closing argument. “The state grants extensive authority to law enforcement but we don’t live in a police state. There are limits on those powers that protect citizens.”

Colleran said that the statute defining the crime of official oppression outlined some of those limits. He urged the jury to find Higgins guilty of the crime.

jharrison@bangordailynews.net

990-8207

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MAINE LAW DEFINING ’OFFICIAL OPPRESSION’:

“A person is guilty of official oppression if, being a public servant and acting with the intention to benefit himself or another or to harm another, he knowingly commits an unauthorized act which purports to be an act of his office, or knowingly refrains from performing a duty imposed on him by law or clearly inherent in the nature of his office.”

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