April 26, 2018
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Eastport man wrongly arrested, strip-searched, jailed

By Sharon Kiley Mack, BDN Staff

EASTPORT, Maine — Abel Burse, 31, was recently caught up in a police sweep, arrested, strip-searched, and incorrectly jailed for nearly 20 hours.

The Eastport man was arrested, according to police, for violating bail. The problem is, “I’m not on bail,” Burse said.

First Assistant District Attorney Paul Cavanaugh confirmed Monday that an old case against Burse was resolved in 2007. “That is when his bail should have ended,” Cavanaugh said. And although Burse does have a previous record, Cavanaugh said, “this shouldn’t have happened to him.”

The error appears to be a computer problem, Cavanaugh said. Somehow, the bail conditions placed on Burse more than four years ago were never removed from the private computer system the state uses to keep track of such matters.

Burse said he was one of 10 people arrested Thursday, April 7, in a sweep intended to obtain information about a rash of arson fires in the Perry and Pembroke areas. As a result of information obtained in that sweep, two Washington County men were arrested last week and charged with the arson fire of a seasonal home.

Burse was not one of those men.

Burse said he had gotten into trouble with drugs more than four years ago but has since turned his life around and has not had any interaction with police in all that time. He said publicity around his arrest has now irreparably damaged his reputation.

Burse said he was arrested April 7 and released without explanation Friday morning, April 8. “They didn’t even give me a reason. They handed me my stuff and said, ‘Go.’ An apology would have been nice,” he said.

Burse said that a Pleasant Point police officer and corrections officers all tried at the time of his arrest to tell deputies that a mistake had been made. “This whole thing was unnecessary. All this hard work to make my life better is now gone. My reputation has been destroyed.”

“This is a nightmare. Thursday night, three cruisers showed up at my door,” he said. “My girlfriend is seven months pregnant and this was really upsetting to her. They searched the house, illegally.”

Burse said he was arrested, taken to Washington County Jail, processed and strip-searched. “I knew I hadn’t done anything but no one would believe me,” he said. “A mistake like that should never have been made.”

Four years ago, Burse was convicted of trafficking in drugs but since 2009 he has been free of probation or bail conditions. “I mean, no one is on bail for four years,” he said.

Cavanaugh said that several years ago, the state began using a private company for court documentation but court clerks were responsible for updating bail placements, conditions and endings. “Somehow, back in 2007, my office did the paperwork but the computer was never updated and the bail stayed in place.”

Cavanaugh said there is no way to erase an arrest. Once the district attorney’s office searched for a certified copy of the bail requirements and found there weren’t any, the violation charges were immediately dismissed against Burse. However, Cavanaugh said, the arrest for the bail violation will remain on Burse’s record.

Repeated requests over several days for comment from Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith on this issue received no response. By midafternoon Monday, Burse’s name and photograph were still up on the WCSO’s website indicating he has been arrested for violating bail.

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