SEARSPORT, Maine — A confrontation between police and opponents of a liquid propane tank under consideration by the town planning board erupted in the lobby outside the meeting Wednesday night after an officer evicted an elderly man.
Almost three hours into the meeting in the Searsport District High School cafeteria, a scuffle drew the attention of the 125 or so attending. One of two Searsport police officers who were stationed at the meeting along with chief Dick LaHaye appeared to grab resident Ben Crimaudo.
The officer was heard telling Crimaudo he had to leave the meeting, holding him by the upper arm and attempting to direct the man to the exit. Crimaudo was then heard saying, “I didn’t do anything! I didn’t do anything!”
Board chairman Bruce Probert has cautioned those attending the meetings, which began Monday night, not to interrupt speakers, ask questions without being recognized or applaud or otherwise disrupt the proceedings. Several loud groans and derisive laughter have been heard, though, during the course of the review.
After Crimaudo left the cafeteria with the officer, about two dozen of the project’s opponents followed into the hallway, where LaHaye was talking with Crimaudo. Crimaudo said he had not been charged, but that the chief told him if he re-entered the meeting he would be arrested.
Some of the opponents then began chanting “Shame! Shame!” and held up signs that read, “We will not be silenced.” Several told police Crimaudo, who is about 75, was a respected and beloved resident of the town and did not deserve such treatment.
LaHaye told those in the hall to move along, but the crowd did not disperse for several more minutes.
One man who was sitting near where the officer grabbed Crimaudo said Crimaudo had walked down the side aisle of the room to the front to apparently speak to the attorney representing the opponents. The man said Crimaudo spoke quietly to the attorney when the officer grabbed him and told him he had to leave.
As LaHaye left with Crimaudo, he encouraged him to visit him Thursday in his office to talk about the incident. Crimaudo said he planned to speak to LaHaye’s boss.
Some of those who rallied around Crimaudo in the lobby were in tears, and others accused police of infringing on the man’s freedom of speech because he was an opponent of the project.