BETHEL, Maine — Bethel developer and restaurant owner Rick Savage Sr. has filed a federal suit against the town of Bethel and Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant, among others, seeking damages for what he claims was an excessively forceful, wrongful arrest last year.
According to Savage’s claim, filed in U.S. District Court, deputies and others deprived him of his liberty “without probable cause or due process, and in direct violation of the Constitution.”
Savage was arrested in May 2012 in the parking lot outside the Bethel Town Office after getting into an argument with Peter Mason, the husband of Town Clerk Christen Mason, who was upset because Savage had called their home about a petition to remove the town’s sign ordinance.
The confrontation happened immediately after a May 14 selectmen’s meeting, in which Savage and his brother/business partner, Ron Savage, had sought to petition removal of the municipal sign ordinance. During a previous meeting, selectmen had declined the brothers’ request to install a directional sign on the Sunday River access road for their restaurant, the Black Diamond Steakhouse, so the two were attempting to do away with all municipal governance of signs.
Their petition was not accepted by the board because the petition was not delivered before the May 9 deadline to make the annual town meeting warrant.
Outside the town office, Mason approached Savage and they argued. According to Savage, the conversation had ended and he was walking away when Cpl. Brian Landis and Deputy Matthew Noyes approached him. By this time, Savage claims he was about 30 feet away from Mason and that “without any provocation or warning, Defendant Landis and Defendant Noyes grabbed Mr. Savage as he was walking toward his car, and placed him under arrest, handcuffing him.”
Savage claims the officers used excessive force, causing him “physical injuries, pain, discomfort, embarrassment and mental anguish.”
He was charged with two counts of disorderly conduct and one count of refusing to submit to arrest. The charges were dismissed in November.
Ron Savage was not charged in the incident and has not joined his brother’s suit.
According to Savage’s complaint, prior to the May 14 selectmen’s meeting, Town Manager James Doar had asked the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office to staff the meeting with two officers “specifically to ‘deal with’ Mr. Savage.”
At the time, Doar said he asked for police presence after recent harassment and threats from Rick Savage against town employees.
Savage denies having threatened anyone and, according to his lawsuit, he and his brother merely “exercised their right to speak at the meeting regarding the sign ordinance.” And that, as a result, police officers “took it upon themselves to unlawfully, unreasonably and violently arrest Mr. Savage.”
Savage also claims the officers did not see the argument and had no probable cause to arrest him or to believe he was involved in any crime, and that they erred in making the arrest because of “inadequate and unconstitutional policies, practices and procedures of” the Sheriff’s Office and the town of Bethel, including lack of adequate training on the appropriate use of force.
The suit further claims that both Noyes and Landis “have been disciplined or should have been disciplined numerous times for their excessive use of force and/or inappropriate conduct, including but not limited to unreasonable seizures.”
Sheriff Gallant is on vacation this week and unavailable to comment on the suit, but Chief Deputy Hart Daley said he is not aware that either Landis, who is now a lieutenant detective, or Noyes have ever been disciplined for cause, as the suit alleges.
On Tuesday, Savage said he filed the suit because town officials and police “used excessive force for no reason, to quiet us down” and, given the brothers’ stature in the business community, Savage said, “We have to defend ourselves at some point.”
“I have donated thousands and thousands of dollars in this town as a businessperson,” Savage said. “I don’t have a record and never had one,” claiming public officials have colluded to keep him quiet and violate his civil rights.
In 2007, Savage was charged with criminal threatening after an incident at the Bethel Town Office when Savage got into a heated argument, raising his voice and shaking his fists at former Town Manager Scott Cole. The court filed the charge for a year, providing Savage had no contact with Cole outside public meetings until May 5, 2008, and Cole sought a protection order against Savage. That case was heard in Oxford County Superior Court in Paris.
In 2009, Savage and Code Enforcement Officer Robert Folsom got in an argument at the Crossroads Diner & Deli on Route 2, during which Folsom punched Savage in the face. No charges were filed against either of the men in that incident.
The federal suit, filed Monday, claims the officers and Doar violated Savage’s First, Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendments’ rights and seeks compensation for his injuries, attorney’s fees and punitive damages.
Doar had no comment on the suit Tuesday.