SEARSPORT, Maine — Ben Crimaudo, the 75-year-old Searsport man who police removed from the town planning board meeting Wednesday night, said Thursday he plans on filing a formal complaint with the town about his treatment by police.
The meeting was the third in three nights as the board began digging into the substance of a controversial application by Denver-based DCP Midstream to build a 110-foot tall, 23 million gallon liquid propane storage tank in an industrial area of the Mack Point port facility. Between 100 and 200 people have been attending the meetings held in the Searsport District High School cafeteria.
Crimaudo planned to meet Thursday with Town Manager James Gillway and Police Chief Dick LaHaye, but two lawyers representing Thanks But No Tank, the opposition group, wanted to be with him at the meeting and could not schedule the time, Crimaudo said.
Gillway, contacted Thursday afternoon, said he was briefed by LaHaye Wednesday night and again Thursday morning about the incident. Gillway, who is the former town police chief, was in the room when Crimaudo was removed, but like many in attendance, did not witness the early part of the exchange between officer Ryan Nickerson and Crimaudo.
If a complaint is filed as expected, Gillway will be part of the investigation and so did not want to prejudice his perspective on the matter, he said, by speaking about it.
LaHaye said Thursday afternoon the incident is now being considered “a personnel matter.”
“Our position at the school was to make sure some order was in place,” he said, noting the highly contentious nature of the project and its review.
Several people coming to Crimaudo’s defense Wednesday night noted that board chairman Bruce Probert had not complained about Crimaudo or any disturbance. After Crimaudo was removed, Probert addressed the remaining people in attendance, and stressed that he was not involved in asking for the police action.
LaHaye and Gillway both said police do not work for the board, and can decide at their discretion that someone is disrupting the proceedings.
“It doesn’t matter if the chairman had a problem or not,” Gillway said. He praised Probert’s handling of the contentious meetings so far, saying “Bruce is doing an excellent job.”
Crimaudo recalled what transpired from his perspective.
He said he left his seat and walked down the side aisle to talk to Ken Agabian, a resident who is working with Thanks But No Tank.
“I went to whisper in his ear to have him tell something to the lawyer,” Crimaudo said, meaning Steve Hinchman, who represents Thanks But No Tank. Crimaudo estimates he was about 20 feet from the stage where the planning board sat. Hinchman was sitting in the front row.
“I was whispering so quietly,” Crimaudo said. “Nobody heard anything.” In fact, Agabian had to ask Crimaudo to repeat his comments.
Then Nickerson said to Crimaudo, “No talking, no talking,” he recalled. “I said to him, ‘I’m not talking, I’m whispering.’ He really got rattled and said, ‘Go back to your seat,'” Crimaudo said.
“At that point it just escalated and he started grabbing me and manhandling me,” Crimaudo said.
“Bizarre,” was how the 75-year-old characterized the incident. “It was just so unnecessary.”
LaHaye said the officer asked Crimaudo to return to his seat, and when he did not immediately agree or move, the officer asked him to leave the room. No arrest was contemplated, LaHaye said.
“It didn’t need to go as far as it did,” LaHaye said.
The town has been video recording the meetings, Gillway said, which may help in the investigation.