May 23, 2018
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Former Washington County sheriff sentenced for gun threat

Courtesy photo | BDN
Courtesy photo | BDN
By Sharon Kiley Mack, BDN Staff

MACHIAS, Maine — Former Washington County Sheriff Joseph Tibbetts was sentenced Monday to a fine and community service in the wake of a guilty plea he entered last May involving an altercation on blueberry barrens.

Tibbetts, 63, entered his guilty plea in May 2010 to a charge of threatening display of a dangerous weapon, which was significantly reduced from the original felony charge of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon.

On Monday, Justice Kevin Cuddy ordered Tibbetts to pay a $250 fine and perform 120 hours of community service. According to those in the courtroom, Tibbetts apologized to his victims after the sentencing.

Tibbetts also was ordered to forfeit a single firearm.

Tibbetts has maintained that he stopped a vehicle he believed contained people who were stealing blueberries while he worked a security detail in Columbia in August 2009.

The couple and their children in the car, however, said they were out looking for coyotes and were terrorized by Tibbetts.

A few days after the incident, Melina Church, 34, her partner, Kevin Merritt, 46, and her two sons, ages 12 and 4, told the Bangor Daily News they were held at gunpoint at the end of a cul-de-sac on a quiet Thursday evening.

Merritt said that while they were driving the dirt roads in the barrens, a vehicle came up fast behind them with its high beams glowing. The couple said they and their children were very frightened.

“There wasn’t a single blueberry in our car,” Church said. “We were just a family out for a ride.”

“We were absolutely intimidated,” Church said. “There was terror in our car.”

The family members said they became trapped in a cul-de-sac and that Tibbetts jumped from his truck and pointed a handgun at them.

After a few moments, the man identified himself and when he realized he knew Church — she had been a corrections officer when Tibbetts was sheriff — he let them go.

A year ago, when he pleaded guilty, Tibbetts admitted he did stop the couple for security purposes, but said he never drew his weapon.

Tibbetts was arrested four days later and has remained free on $5,000 unsecured bail since.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that former Washington County Sheriff Joseph Tibbetts was ordered to give up all of his weapons. Justice Kevin Cuddy ordered him to forfeit a single weapon.

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