AUGUSTA, Maine — A Maine lawmaker faced a judge for the first time Monday on charges he threatened a man with a loaded handgun outside a Waterville Dunkin’ Donuts over the weekend.
Rep. Frederick L. Wintle, a first-term Republican from Garland, was not required to enter a plea in Kennebec County Superior Court in Augusta on charges of carrying a concealed weapon and a felony charge of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon.
During the proceeding, Wintle, wearing an orange jumpsuit and shackled at the wrists and ankles, asked Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy if he could make a “statement of fact,” but after consulting with his acting attorney, state Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, did not speak.
Although Wintle did not make a statement in court, as he was being led from the courtroom, he offered the following unsolicited comment to several reporters:
“I believe in America. I believe in God. I believe in my family, and I believe this is going to be all right,” he said.
As part of court-ordered bail conditions, Murphy barred Wintle from the State House complex. She also included conditions that Wintle not possess firearms, stay away from the Waterville Dunkin’ Donuts and that he submit to a mental evaluation.
Kennebec County District Attorney Evert Fowle said Speaker of the House Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, requested that staying away from the State House complex be part of Wintle’s bail conditions. Nutting has deactivated Wintle’s electronic entry badge for the State House.
Lance Dutson, a spokesman for Nutting’s office, said no formal process for removing Wintle from the Legislature has begun and that Nutting and other legislative leaders were awaiting the outcome of Monday’s court appearance before making any decisions. Dutson said Monday afternoon that he expects a decision in the next day or two. The Maine Constitution allows each house of the Legislature to expel one of its own members with a two-thirds vote.
Wintle, 58, was elected to the House of Representatives in November 2010. He was arrested Saturday after he allegedly pulled a .22-caliber pistol from his waistband and pointed it at Michael Seamans of Sidney outside the Dunkin’ Donuts on Waterville’s Kennedy Memorial Drive.
The judge also ordered Wintle to have no contact with Seamans.
Seamans, who is a photographer for the Morning Sentinel newspaper, told the Bangor Daily News on Sunday that Wintle brandished the gun, which later was found by police to be loaded, within two feet of Seamans’ chest. Seamans told police that Wintle said something about a drug dealer who supplied drugs to a mother whose baby died last week at a Waterville homeless shelter.
“Quite honestly, it was all nonsensical,” said Seamans of Wintle’s statements to him.
Seamans has no connection to any case Waterville police are investigating, said Waterville Police Deputy Chief Charles Rumsey.
Waterville police arrested Wintle at about 8:45 a.m. at Central Maine Motors, where witnesses said Wintle had gone after the incident. He has been held on $3,500 bail since his arrest.
Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, said he attended Wintle’s court appearance as a show of support for a person Davis called “a friend.”
“I am concerned about him absolutely,” said Davis. “He ran for the Legislature last year and I worked with him. He was a very good candidate, very rational, full of common sense and full of good judgment.”
Murphy ordered Wintle to submit to a mental health evaluation as outlined in a “blue paper” process commenced by Waterville police and personnel at the Kennebec County Jail. Murphy declined to order a more extensive competency evaluation that likely would have taken place at Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta.
Fowle said Wintle could face up to five years in prison if convicted of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon. The maximum jail sentence for carrying a concealed weapon is 364 days.
Asked if he viewed Wintle’s alleged actions on Saturday as typical of someone struggling with mental illness, Fowle said there is no “normal” when it comes to such cases.
“We have a pretty good idea about what occurred,” said Fowle. “Now we want to find out why it occurred. For 58 years of [Wintle’s life] we haven’t seen any behavior approaching this. It’s very important that we get to the bottom of this.”
A representative from Wintle’s employer, Affiliated Collections Inc. of Bangor, confirmed that Wintle is still an employee there, but he is on legislative leave.
Wintle’s next court appearance is scheduled for 10 a.m. July 26.
Correction: An earlier version of this story quoted Wintle as saying, "I believe in sunshine." Wintle said "I believe this is going to be all right."