Investigation clears Searsport police of wrongdoing for removing man from propane tank meeting

A Searsport police officer attempts to escort resident Ben Crimaudo from the Searsport Planning Board's Nov. 28 meeting, at which it reviewed the proposed 23-million gallon propane tank.
A Searsport police officer attempts to escort resident Ben Crimaudo from the Searsport Planning Board's Nov. 28 meeting, at which it reviewed the proposed 23-million gallon propane tank.
Posted May 26, 2013, at 4:27 p.m.

SEARSPORT, Maine — Officers from the Searsport Police Department did not act with malice or prejudice when they removed an elderly man from a contentious town planning board hearing last November, according to the results of the town’s internal affairs investigation that were released this week.

But Anne Crimaudo, wife of 75-year-old Ben Crimaudo, said Sunday that the couple is not satisfied with the investigation.

“The results are exactly what we expected — we expected a whitewash,” she said. “We were not terribly surprised by the findings, but we were disappointed.”

Her husband had filed the formal complaint with the town in December after being ejected from the Nov. 28 public hearing about the controversial application for a massive liquid propane gas storage tank and terminal facility at the Mack Point port facility. Developers DCP Midstream abruptly withdrew their application in April after initial findings from the planning board indicated that the project would not be permitted.

Town Manager James Gillway said Friday that he requested outside assistance with the investigation so that there would be no real or perceived bias on the part of the investigators. Police chiefs from Bucksport and Southwest Harbor interviewed those involved in the complaint and witnesses. The personnel investigation is private but the findings are not, he said.

“I did feel more confident having outside agencies looking at it, because they’re not involved in the process. No animosity, no hard feelings,” Gillway said.

The findings stated that the police officials involved did not violate the procedures or laws during the “difficult and charged encounter,” according to the disciplinary letter that was released to the BDN after a Freedom of Access Act request. Still, Gillway ordered that the entire police department be required to attend additional training on crowd control “with an emphasis on the participant’s rights as soon as possible.”

Ben Crimaudo, who was in attendance at the hearing in the Searsport District High School cafeteria, had left his seat to speak with someone with the Thanks But No Tank opposition group when he was evicted by Officer Ryan Nickerson. Crimaudo told the BDN in November that the officer started “grabbing me and manhandling me.”

Crimaudo left the cafeteria with Nickerson and was told by Chief Dick LaHaye that if he re-entered the meeting he would be arrested, according to a previously published report in the BDN. Some of the two dozen project opponents who had followed Crimaudo out into the school lobby chanted “Shame! Shame!” and held up signs that read, “We will not be silenced.” During the altercation, the event was videotaped by some people present. Amy Browne, who was recording the meetings for WERU-FM Community Radio, said that police told her she had to stop videotaping them.

“What I saw was an overreaction and shocking abuse of power,” she said Sunday. “I was sitting in close proximity and didn’t hear Ben make any disturbance, and none was picked up on my recorder — until they started forcing him to leave and he protested that.”

Anne Crimaudo said that the incident shouldn’t have happened.

“It was an unnecessary situation that was handled poorly,” she said.

She also thinks that the outside investigation may not have been sufficiently thorough and she did not believe the other police chiefs saw the videos that had been taken by Browne and others who were there.

“It was more than four months before witnesses were interviewed,” she said. “Good police procedure is to interview witnesses as soon as possible after the event.”

She said that while her husband has recovered from the physical shock and upset, and has appreciated an outpouring of community support after the public hearing episode, the incident has had lasting effects.

“The disillusionment is still there,” she said. “We’ve always been active in the community, but we kind of don’t feel that way anymore. We don’t feel like being involved to the level we were.”

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