ROCKLAND, Maine — Two Matinicus lobster boat sternmen accused of beating another sternman over a fishing dispute were in Knox County Superior Court Wednesday for bail hearings.
“[The victim] said this whole deal started over two of his friends setting fishing gear off the island of Matinicus a few weeks back,” wrote Deputy John Palmer of the Knox County Sheriff’s Department in a report filed with the court.
Police say that Joshua Anthony, 29, and Jason Luce, 38, allegedly broke into another Matinicus sternman’s home, where they beat him and stole his gun. Anthony and Luce were charged with assault, theft, burglary, criminal threatening and terrorizing. All of the charges are felonies.
As part of the pair’s bail conditions, neither man is allowed to return to Matinicus before his next court appearances on June 30. Anthony’s bail was set at $10,000; Luce’s at $2,000. Both remained in Knox County Jail as of Wednesday afternoon.
Police reports filed in court indicated that at about 10 p.m. May 1, the alleged victim was cooking at his island home when he heard a knock on his door. He opened it, thinking it was a friend and then turned away from the door. Luce and Anthony went in.
According to police reports, Anthony punched the victim from behind before the victim could turn around to face them. The men continued beating him for almost an hour, leaving him with a fractured nose, bruising throughout his face and side and possibly a few fractured ribs, said Detective Dwight Burtis.
Luce and Anthony took turns hitting the victim or holding him up to be hit, according to police reports. The victim tried to get up, but could not stand. Anthony then picked the victim up and sat him at his own table, according to Palmer’s report.
“Josh held his hands down on the table as Jason threatened to break his hands and fingers using a piece of firewood. [The victim] said Jason was holding the firewood like a club,” Palmer wrote. After this, Luce rifled through the victim’s belongings and took a Taurus .357 Magnum seven-shot revolver, police reports stated. Later, a shotgun also was reported missing.
Before leaving the victim’s house, one of the men — allegedly with the victim’s gun at his side — threatened to harm the victim’s girlfriend and parents if he reported the incident to police.
“[The victim] said Josh and Jason told him to tell everyone that he fell down the stairs,” Palmer wrote.
“On the island, things like this happen all the time. They just don’t report them. Matinicus is like the Wild West,” Burtis said.
Burtis said Luce and Anthony were drunk at the time of the incident.
“This is standard stuff out there,” Burtis said. “I call it the ‘sternman wars.’”
The victim later was taken to Penobscot Bay Medical Center in Rockport, where he was treated and released, according to Sheriff Donna Dennison.
On Sunday, May 2, a day after the incident, the victim went to the sheriff’s office to submit a complaint and a statement. On Monday, May 3, officials with the sheriff’s office, along with Marine Patrol officers, went to Matinicus to investigate. There, Luce surrendered. Police said they found Anthony in a Matinicus home’s attic crawl space. Officials took them off the island at gunpoint.
Officers obtained information about the location of the handgun, which one of the men allegedly threw into the ocean. On Tuesday, May 4, officials from the Marine Patrol and Knox County Sheriff’s Department rode a boat to Matinicus again, this time with the Maine State Police Dive Team. Three divers were released into the rocky waters, where they retrieved the revolver within 15 minutes, according to Burtis, who said the low tides and the light silver color of the weapon helped.
“When they came up in 15 minutes, I was in awe,” Burtis said.
Assault, criminal threatening and terrorizing are felony Class C crimes punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Burglary and theft are felony Class B charges punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
Anthony has five theft convictions, three criminal trespass convictions, two burglary convictions, and single forgery, criminal trespass and violation of condition of release convictions in his criminal record listed with the Maine State Bureau of Identification.
Luce has no criminal history filed with the Maine State Bureau of Identification.
Tensions over fishing territory have been high among lobstermen along the midcoast recently. Trap-cutting incidents have occurred in the past year, and last August three lobster boats in Owls Head were vandalized, with two of them sunk.
Edwin Vance Bunker, 68, of Matinicus was found not guilty in March of charges stemming from an incident in July 2009 in which lobsterman Christopher Young was shot in the neck on the island dock during a dispute over fishing territory.
“It’s a continuation of the same theme with the Bunkers, but different players,” Burtis said.
The Knox County Sheriff’s Department hopes to send a message to people on Matinicus.
“We’re not going to allow this to go on anymore,” Burtis said.