Jewish man harassed out of Saco home, Maine rights panel finds

Posted March 05, 2012, at 5:37 p.m.
Last modified March 06, 2012, at 10:52 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A Lewiston man was harassed out of his home by another tenant last spring because he is Jewish, the Maine Human Rights Commission found Monday.

Bruce Brown, now of Lewiston, said a tenant in the Saco apartment building he lived in drove him out of his home by painting swastikas on his car, purposely setting off fire alarms “hundreds of times,” shutting off heat and water to the apartments “at least 20 times” and by throwing loud parties — all because of Brown’s religion.

Members of the Maine Human Rights Commission voted unanimously that Joshua Boucher of Saco did create a hostile environment that forced Brown to leave.

Boucher denied painting swastikas on Brown’s car.

“There is no evidence anyone saw Mr. Boucher put any swastikas on the vehicle. The only basis for it is essentially my client lived there and was angry because Mr. Brown had called the police when [Boucher] smoked pot,” said Boucher’s attorney, Paul Aranson.

The Human Rights Commission’s investigator wrote that Boucher likely did paint the anti-Semitic symbols on Brown’s car and therefore discriminated against him.

Paul Vestal, chairman of the commission, asked, however, whether there was a possibility that Brown tried to set up Boucher.

“This case is really difficult because, in my view, what’s to say Mr. Brown didn’t put the swastikas on his own car? He’s been living there for a couple years and he was getting tired of the noise and the parties and people using drugs and he starts telling the cops that these swastikas start appearing,” Vestal said.

“I don’t think Mr. Brown did that,” the commissioner’s investigator Barbara Lelli said at the meeting Monday. “It’s hard for me to believe that someone Jewish would paint a swastika to hide behind it and pin it on someone else. Why not key the car?”

Lelli also said that in the course of her investigation, Boucher changed his story about the swastikas, first saying he didn’t do it and didn’t know who did, but later saying he did know who did it — pinning the crime on other tenants in the building.

Vestal also wondered why Brown and Boucher lived peacefully with each other for more than a year before the harassment started. Lelli said the harassment started shortly after Brown started calling the police on Boucher when he thought Boucher was smoking marijuana and crack cocaine.

“That triggered anger on Joshua Boucher’s part, which led to an anti-Semitic response,” Lelli said Monday.

Boucher’s attorney also questioned whether Boucher was even subject to the Maine Human Rights Act because he wasn’t the landlord, just a tenant.

According to Lelli, Boucher did violate the law by interfering with Brown’s “civil right to live in housing free of religious discrimination” which she said is not limited to landlords. The final vote was 5-0 that Boucher discriminated against Brown.

Brown filed a second complaint with the commission because Boucher’s father, Ronald Boucher, owned the building and was his landlord. Brown said Ronald Boucher also discriminated against him, but the commission in a 5-0 vote found no reasonable grounds for that allegation. According to the commission’s investigator, it’s not clear that Ronald Boucher knew what was going on.

In such cases, both parties are encouraged to reconcile and reach a settlement. If conciliation fails, the complainant may file a civil lawsuit in Maine Superior Court, where a binding settlement can include monetary damages.

CORRECTION:

An early version of this story requires clarification. Although Bruce Brown now lives in Lewiston, the apartment building he was driven out of is in Saco.

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