June 24, 2018
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Charges dropped against Ellsworth officer accused of domestic violence assault

By Mario Moretto, BDN Staff

ELLSWORTH, Maine — The city police officer arrested in January after allegedly pushing and restraining his girlfriend is back on the job, and the charges against him have been dismissed.

The misdemeanor domestic-violence assault case against Andrew Weatherbee, 30, of Holden, was dismissed because of “insufficient evidence” by Assistant District Attorney Alice Clifford on June 26, according to a Penobscot County Superior Court record.

On the same day, the city of Ellsworth made its final disciplinary finding against Weatherbee. In the finding, City Manager Michelle Beal wrote that Weatherbee’s “off-duty conduct was unbecoming of an officer [and] in violation of City and Department rules.”

Beal imposed a 90-day unpaid suspension, but gave Weatherbee credit for time served. Weatherbee has been on leave since his arrest on January 27. A portion of that leave was paid, but by March, the officer was no longer receiving a city paycheck. Weatherbee returned to duty on Thursday.

Beal said the decision to bring Weatherbee back to duty was made before the city was notified that the criminal charges against him had been dismissed. Had the trial gone ahead and Weatherbee been found guilty, the city would have taken “further action,” she said.

The city originally took a “wait-and-see” approach to disciplinary action, hoping that a ruling in the case would be made quickly, she said. But six months after the arrest, the city was tired of waiting.

“The judicial system was taking so long, so I went back and looked at the case again, and at the internal investigation we had done, and that’s how I made the decision,” she said Thursday.

Weatherbee was represented by two attorneys. Ellsworth lawyer Jeff Toothaker represented the officer in his criminal case, and Portland lawyer William McKinley represented him at City Hall on behalf of his union, the Maine Association of Police.

Toothaker said Thursday that Clifford’s decision to drop the case took him by surprise, though he said the evidence against his client was thin, at best.

“We were picking a jury on July 3,” he said. “I just didn’t think [Clifford] would [dismiss], given that it had made the press. Realistically, I showed her what we had for evidence, and she’d seen the pictures.”

McKinley said the union contract required a decision on Weatherbee’s employment to be made within a certain timeframe, which needed to be extended several times due to the long criminal justice process in Penobscot County. The union fought hard for Weatherbee’s job, he said.

“Occasionally, people do make mistakes,” McKinley said. “But I can tell you unequivocally that the union believed from the inception that these charges were devoid of merit, and we’ve asserted that vigorously.”

Ellsworth Police Chief John DeLeo said an investigation by the Maine Criminal Justice Academy into the January incident that led to Weatherbee’s arrest is ongoing. The Academy launches inquiries whenever a Maine-accredited officer is charged with a crime, and has the right to revoke accreditation.

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

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