WATERVILLE, Maine — Maine’s House speaker took steps Sunday to bar a Garland legislator from the State House after the first-term Republican was arrested Saturday for allegedly pointing a gun at a man in a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot.
Rep. Frederick L. Wintle, whose “erratic behavior” was brought to the attention of Capitol Police last week, was arrested at gunpoint Saturday after he allegedly pulled a .22-caliber pistol from his waistband and pointed it at Michael Seamans of Sidney, a newspaper photographer for the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, outside the coffee shop on Kennedy Memorial Drive.
Wintle was arrested and charged with carrying a concealed weapon and with a felony charge of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon, Deputy Chief Charles Rumsey of the Waterville Police Department said Saturday. Wintle was taken to the Kennebec County Jail where bail was set at $3,500 cash. He had not posted bail as of Sunday and is scheduled to make his initial appearance on the charges at 1 p.m. Monday at Augusta Superior Court.
Recounting the ordeal Sunday, Seamans said he feared for his life. “The barrel of the gun was no more than a foot or two away from my chest,” he said. He said he learned later there were bullets in the magazine of Wintle’s gun when police arrested him.
Seamans said he stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts to get a coffee on his way to work when Wintle, who was standing beside his pickup truck in front of the business, mumbled something to him as he went inside. Seamans, who had never met Wintle before, said he continued into the shop. Once inside, Seamans noticed that Wintle was staring at him through the window.
After he got his coffee, Seamans said, he went back outside and Wintle again said something to him. Not understanding what Wintle said, Seamans said he turned around and said, “Excuse me.” He said Wintle then asked him about the baby who died last week at a homeless shelter in Waterville and whether he knew the person who was dealing in drugs. “Quite honestly it was all nonsensical,” Seamans recalled of Wintle’s ramblings.
Seamans said he proceeded to his vehicle, opened the driver’s side door of his pickup truck and reached inside to place his coffee in a cup holder. Wintle reportedly came around Seaman’s truck and again mumbled something to Seamans. “I couldn’t understand what he was asking me,” Seamans said.
The next thing Seamans saw was the handgun. Wintle had pulled up his shirt to expose the gun. When Wintle grabbed the gun from the waistband of his pants, Seamans remembered asking him something like, “What are you going to do with the gun?” Wintle waved the gun in the air and leveled it at Seamans. “I didn’t know if he was going to shoot me or if it would accidentally go off.
“I had no idea who this man was,” Seamans said. He said he had been employed with the newspaper since August and was not familiar with the key players in Augusta. He said Wintle’s truck did not have a legislative license plate. Seamans added that he wasn’t wearing any media identification or carrying a camera at the time.
Waterville police, who received Seamans’ 911 call at 8:45 a.m., found Wintle at Central Maine Motors, where witnesses reported he went after the incident. Wintle was arrested at gunpoint, Rumsey said. Wintle, who was with his wife, did not resist arrest.
A .22-caliber pistol was removed from the waistband of Wintle’s pants, Rumsey said.
Rumsey said Wintle confronted Seamans in the parking lot and later pulled out the handgun. Seamans told police that Wintle made confusing statements and spoke about a drug dealer who supplied the drugs to a mother whose baby died last week at a Waterville homeless shelter.
Seamans has no connection to any case Waterville police are pursuing, according to Rumsey, who believed the victim was an innocent bystander.
Rumsey said police are concerned about Wintle’s behavior. “He did not appear to be under the influence. We’re confused about what prompted him to take that action,” he said.
Kerri Prescott, R-Topsham, House chairwoman of the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee on which Wintle serves, said Sunday that she had expressed concerns to Capitol Police, House staff and members of the leadership about Wintle’s bizarre behavior in recent weeks. As a result, a police officer or a staff member has been sitting in on committee meetings when Wintle was in attendance, she said.
”Fred has been exhibiting erratic behavior for a few months now,” Prescott said, “I’ve seen a very big change in him escalating in the last few weeks.” She said Wintle has been fixated on certain topics and his comments have not been germane to the discussions at hand.
Russell Gauvin, chief of the Bureau of Capitol Police, confirmed Sunday that his office was contacted last week about Wintle’s behavior. Some people said they felt uncomfortable around him, others said they couldn’t tell whether he was joking when he made certain statements and still others were concerned about Wintle’s actions, he said. “I met with him and spoke to him” about the concerns, he said. Wintle told Gauvin that people needed to get more of a sense of humor, he said. Gauvin said he and other officers would monitor the committee meetings when they could between other duties. Nothing that Wintle did at the State House rose to the level of a threat, he said.
But close to it, according to Phil Curtis, R-Madison. “He would anger up real quick and then he would calm down just as quick,” the House majority leader said Sunday.
Curtis said that Wintle’s activity has been monitored for about 30 to 45 days by staff members. He said he and others sat down with Wintle several times to try to find out what was bothering him, but Wintle would always reply, “Everything’s fine.”
Curtis, too, said Wintle would ask questions that were not germane to the discussion, but rather than provoke him, the committee members would tell him they would look into what he had an issue with. “We kind of handled him with gentle gloves.”
Roger Bintliff, manager of the Senator Inn in Augusta, said Wintle had been a frequent guest there and had shown some bizarre behavior off and on over the months. On Friday evening Wintle was a “bit confrontational” to a man in the lounge, Bintliff said Sunday, and Wintle was asked not to return.
Bintliff said things would go well for a few days and then his employees would call him and report that Wintle was acting up again. “He’s just really off,” he said.
In reaction to Wintle’s arrest, Maine Speaker of the House Robert Nutting said, “I am deeply troubled by the events that transpired in Waterville Saturday.” He said his “deepest sympathies are with those who faced an obviously frightening situation, and I am thankful to law enforcement officials who were able to defuse the situation without injury to any involved.”
Nutting said he is concerned for the safety of all members of the Legislature, State House employees and members of the public at the Capitol. “I have asked the district attorney to make a condition of Rep. Wintle’s bail be that he is barred from the Capitol campus, and we have revoked electronic badge privileges for entry to the State House as well.”
Nutting said further comments on the matter will be made later on the legislative repercussions of the incident, but for now, the primary focus is on public safety. He said he has reached out to the House and Senate leadership and will be keeping all apprised of developments.
Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, said he also saw Wintle’s personality change in recent months. “He’s certainly raised a lot of concerns in the last few months, but nothing so bizarre any action could be taken” until Saturday’s incident. “I’m thankful no one was hurt. My heart and my prayers go out to him and his family,” Davis said Sunday.
“I was really shocked that incident had happened,” Rep. Pete Johnson, R-Greenville, said Sunday. He said he met Wintle for the first time while Wintle was campaigning for the House seat last year. “He always was a pretty interesting guy and had some interesting things to say, none of which would indicate to me there was a problem.”
Wintle, who was born in Dexter and attended local schools, joined the U.S. Air Force as a teenager and traveled the world extensively, according to campaign and family websites. After serving his country for 20 years, he returned to Dexter and later retired with his wife, Joan, to nearby Garland. He has served as an SAD 46 director and does freelance writing focused on the history of his hometown. He was elected to the Legislature last year to represent the towns of Dexter, Athens, Charleston, Harmony, Ripley and Garland.
While he understood it was a random act, Seamans said he is still shaken from the ordeal and hat he skipped his ritual of stopping for coffee Sunday.