BANGOR, Maine — Two weeks after a domestic violence assault charge against him was dismissed, former Milo police Sgt. Damien Pickel is trying to rebuild his life and career.
Pickel, his attorney, N. Laurence Willey Jr., and private investigator Hank Dusenbery held a press conference at Willey’s downtown Bangor office on Tuesday to present Pickel’s account of the events that Willey described as “small-town politics at their worst.”
Pickel, a former New York City police detective, was hired full time by Milo in October 2009. He has been unemployed since his arrest in March. The 22-year police veteran resigned from Milo’s Police Department after being placed on unpaid administrative leave following his arrest.
“Nobody wants to hire someone who’s had their mugshot in the paper,” said Pickel. “I’ve been looking around for other things and I’m in the process of trying to go back to the town of Milo. That’s where I want to work. It’s just a waiting game right now.”
Pickel, 42, was arrested after his estranged wife reported she had been assaulted by him in mid-February. He was accused of grabbing and slamming her into a closet door and wall Feb. 17 at their home in Dexter.
Willey, saying the incident occurred while Pickel was trying to retrieve a piece of his personal property from his estranged wife, referred to a Maine law, 17-A, MRSA 105, stating a person has a lawful right to retrieve property taken by another, including the use of nondeadly force.
The assault charge against Pickel has been dismissed by the Penobscot County District Attorney’s Office.
Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy would not address any specifics of the case on Tuesday, but offered a general statement.
“Our position on this case is this, we really looked carefully at the evidence we had and the statements that were given, and we’re not sure what happened, and we don’t feel we can prove what happened,” Almy said. “We are not sure we can prove what actually happened and when a prosecutor is in that position, we’re duty-bound to dismiss the case.
“We didn’t think we could prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Pickel, Willey and Dusenbery all contend that Pickel’s case was a way for Dexter police officers to try to discredit Dexter Police Chief Jim Emerson, a friend of Pickel’s.
“We believe they [officers] used this as another excuse to criticize the chief, … and [Pickel] is a victim of that,” said Willey. “This is small-town politics at its worst and I wouldn’t say that if I didn’t know it to be true, and I wouldn’t say that if I didn’t believe it to be true.”
Pickel was a part-time reserve officer for both the Milo and Dexter police departments before gaining full-time status with Milo.
Emerson was reluctant to comment Tuesday, saying that he has not been in contact with Pickel’s estranged wife “since this started.”
Willey said he will be sending out notices of tort claims and notices of claims in anticipation of possible future lawsuits.
“Our investigation is ongoing and we are continuing to gather more evidence. The decision to serve notices of claim is not an easy one in this case,” said Willey. “It’s something Damien and his family have talked a lot about. It’s important people not conduct themselves in this fashion.”
Willey notarized each notice of claim during the press conference and identified the people who will receive them. They include the town of Dexter, a former town official, four Dexter police officers, a BDN reporter and Pickel’s estranged wife.
“This isn’t at all even about money,” Willey said. “This is about righting the record. Sometimes apologies are in order and that’s all that’s needed. Sometimes a written statement can occur. We don’t really know what’s going to happen, but the potential of the lawsuit is there and if we don’t file these notices, then we’d waive that.”
Being on the other end of a domestic violence case has given Pickel a new outlook on such cases that he hopes to be able to use as an asset if he’s given the chance to return to law enforcement duty.
“Definitely it’s less black and white,” he said. “There’s more gray now. There’s more of an understanding of how it could be on both sides. It makes you want to think now, and I would hopefully use that as a positive tool if I go back.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Dexter Police Chief Jim Emerson had not been in contact with the Pickels since the controversy started earlier this year. He been in contact with Damien Pickel, but not his estranged wife.