Dexter police chief fulfills 5-day suspension after failure to process crime scene

Posted May 11, 2011, at 12:31 p.m.
Last modified May 12, 2011, at 9:38 a.m.
James Emerson
James Emerson
Damien Pickel
Damien Pickel

DEXTER, Maine — Police Chief Jim Emerson recently completed a five-day suspension for his failure to comply with department policies during a February call regarding an alleged domestic assault that involved another police officer.

Town Manager David Pearson, who placed Emerson on unpaid suspension from April 18 to 24, said the suspension involved a call that a local woman made to Emerson on Feb. 17 regarding an alleged assault by Damien Pickel, then a sergeant with the Milo Police Department and a Dexter reserve officer.

“Jim apparently got the original phone call and didn’t send somebody to process the crime scene,’’ Pearson said Tuesday. Pearson said Emerson did notify District Attorney R. Christopher Almy, talked with the victim and obtained statements, but he did not process the alleged crime scene.

Emerson said Wednesday he had no comment on the incident based on the advice of his attorney.

Pickel is accused of grabbing the woman and slamming her into a closet door and wall on Feb. 17 in Dexter. The woman also accused Pickel of pushing his weight on her while trying to pin her down to get a debit card from inside her pocket.

“He pushed me hard against the wall, and I knocked my head against the wooden window frame,’’ she said in an affidavit. “I was still trying to get free. He then slung me around by my arms and pushed me into the bed, face first. He pinned me down and was still attempting to get into my pocket and retrieve the debit card.”

In her statement to police, the woman said she had called Emerson, who is a friend of the couple, hoping that he would talk with Pickel. She stated she didn’t want Pickel to get into trouble or lose his job and she initially declined to file charges. The woman reportedly showed Emerson the fingerprint-shaped bruises on her wrists and arms and Emerson agreed to talk to Pickel about the incident, according to the affidavit. Emerson reportedly told her that he was required to file an incident report.

Pickel, who is no longer with the Milo or Dexter police departments, has asked for a jury trial, which has been set for Aug. 1 in the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor.

Because concerns arose in the community about Emerson’s response to the alleged assault by Pickel, Pearson said he hired a private investigator to review the facts. The investigator found that Emerson had not followed the police department’s standard operating procedures, Pearson noted. The investigator said Emerson should have sent someone to the scene.

Emerson has previously been cited for failing to carry out his duties. In October, he was placed on probation for 90 days after town officials received a letter of no confidence signed by the town’s four full-time police officers. The letter was submitted while the chief was out on medical leave. Investigations into the officers’ concerns were conducted by Pearson and Robert Schwartz of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association. Those investigations revealed no malfeasance, but lapses of judgment on Emerson’s part.

While Pearson said in October that some of the allegations by the officers were “overblown,” others had merit. The investigation revealed that Emerson had failed to carry out some of his duties as outlined in his job description. Emerson also was faulted for not providing effective leadership and maintaining harmonious relationships, for not demonstrating the ability to command the respect of the officers, and for not investigating all cases of alleged or apparent misconduct by department personnel and taking the appropriate disciplinary action.

Emerson was given a list of corrective actions to take, including participation in a leadership class and a mentoring program.

Of the allegations by his officers, Emerson said in October that “there were things I could have done better, but I didn’t do anything illegal or wrong.”

When Emerson was removed from probation status in January, he was required to “not fail to maintain any of the corrective programs initiated as outlined or otherwise fail to meet the minimal performance requirements for the position of chief.” In addition, he was advised that he would be “subject to suspension without pay as outlined under the Dexter Personnel Policy and, following suspension without pay, a second offense would result in termination.”

Pearson said he is aware that the alleged domestic assault is under investigation by district attorney. He told Emerson that should the district attorney bring any charges against him for his actions on or subsequent to Feb. 17, Pearson may have no other recourse but to terminate his employment with the town.

Almy said his office and police have a case against Pickel, not against Emerson. “Our office is not investigating Jimmy Emerson. We are collecting information from witnesses about what they say or may not say about the details of that incident” involving Pickel, Almy said Wednesday.

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