Police chase sex offender through woods in Gardiner

Posted June 07, 2013, at 2:14 p.m.
Justin Hart
Justin Hart

GARDINER, Maine — A man who allegedly failed to register as a sex offender in Bowdoin fled into the woods Tuesday as police tried to arrest him and was tackled a day later on the shore of the Kennebec River in Gardiner. A police cruiser was damaged and an officer received minor facial injuries along the way.

Police said Justin Hart, 25, was required to register with the Maine Sex Offender Registry when he moved in with his girlfriend on East Burrough Road in Bowdoin.

Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Detective Adam Temple said Hart is required to register as a sex offender for 10 years after his December 2006 arrest in Auburn and subsequent conviction for three counts of possessing sexually explicit material depicting a minor younger than 12.

Temple began looking into Hart’s possible failure to comply with the law — which requires convicted sex offenders to update their address with the registry within five days, and with local police within 24 hours — in May.

As he went to arrest Hart in Bowdoin on Tuesday, “he bolted out the door and into the woods,” Temple said.

A sheriff ’s department police dog attempted to track Hart, to no avail.

On Wednesday, assisted by three Gardiner police officers and a Kennebec County sheriff ’s deputy, police stopped Hart, who was a passenger in a pickup truck driven by his mother, at a business along U.S. Route 201 in Gardiner.

“I was able to tackle him from behind,” when Hart got out of the truck, Temple said, but Hart escaped.

But not for long. Temple saw Hart collide with a Gardiner police cruiser arriving on scene. Hart “hit the hood and broke off the side mirror of the Gardiner cruiser,” then ran across three lanes of traffic on Route 201 and down a raised sidewalk, jumping down an estimated 6 or 7 feet to the Kennebec River Rail Trail below.

There, a Gardiner police officer tried to use a Taser to stop him.

“He fought against the Taser and jumped through a really thick bunch of bushes” and headed toward the river, Temple alleged.

An off-duty game warden riding his bicycle on the Rail Trail joined in the chase, which then continued on to the shore of the Kennebec River.

Temple, the game warden and two Gardiner officers were finally able to catch Hart, who Temple said is 6- foot-1 and 250 pounds.

“We got a little muddy,” said Temple, who sustained a cut under his lower lip.

Hart complained of chest pain after the incident and was taken to MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta. He was medically cleared then taken to Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset.

Hart was charged with one count of failure to comply with sex offense registry act, three counts of violating conditions of release, and two counts of refusing to submit to arrest or detention.

Gardiner police charged him with criminal mischief for the damage done to the police cruiser.

Temple said Hart’s alleged failure to register is his third failure-to-register offense, which he said makes it a felony.

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