Third woman files lawsuit against Machias, former police officer claiming assault

Posted July 12, 2013, at 5:58 p.m.
Last modified July 12, 2013, at 7:40 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — A third woman has filed a lawsuit against the town, Police Chief Grady Dwelley and former local police officer Richard Strout.

It is not another University of Maine at Machias student who is pursuing the latest lawsuit against Strout, which was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Bangor. It is a Trescott woman who says Strout assaulted her, fondled her and sprayed her eyes with a can of Mace, causing her to lose consciousness on Christmas Eve 2007 outside a local gas station. Strout accused her of loitering and being intoxicated before arresting her on charges of assault on an officer and taking her to the Washington County Jail, according to the complaint.

In the lawsuit, the 47-year-old woman also claims that she “recalls having her pants removed by a man and being sexually assaulted.” The Bangor Daily News is not identifying the woman who has initiated the legal action against the town, Dwelley and Strout because she may be a victim of a sexual assault.

The lawsuit does not say when the alleged sexual assault occurred, however, and does not explicitly claim that Strout sexually assaulted the plaintiff in the case. The lawsuit does state that Strout visited the jail the next morning, on Christmas Day, and questioned her about what she recalled from the previous night and then took her to Down East Community Hospital to be “checked for HIV, Hepatitis 1 and 2, and Tuberculosis.”

The woman was told she had to go to the hospital in her jail clothing because her clothes were covered with pepper spray, according to the civil complaint. She was released from the jail around noon Christmas Day after having been brought to the hospital and then back to the jail that morning.

“While [she] was incarcerated at the Washington County Jail, Strout had [her] clothing washed to destroy evidence,” the complaint indicates.

The complaint does not state specifically what evidence may have been destroyed when the woman’s clothing was washed.

The woman says that her rights were violated and that she has suffered severe emotional and physical distress as a result of the incident. She is seeking unspecified monetary damages, including her attorney’s legal costs, according to the complaint.

The woman’s attorney, Dale Thistle of Newport, did not return a voice mail message left at his office early Friday afternoon.

Chris Loughlin, Machias’ town manager, said Friday that he had not been notified of the latest lawsuit against the town and Strout and so declined to comment.

Attempts to contact Dwelley and Strout on Friday were unsuccessful.

Strout has not been a police officer with the town since May 2011. He filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the town in January 2012, claiming that he was fired after he informed the police chief and town officials that a reserve officer was working more hours than permitted under state law. That lawsuit stated that Strout’s termination was based on an evaluation by a Hallowell psychologist who said he was not fit for duty, but Strout maintained that Dwelley met ahead of time with the psychologist and provided him with false information that led to that evaluation.

Strout’s lawsuit against the town was settled in December 2012 for $50,000.

According to the complaint in the lawsuit filed Friday, the woman was waiting outside a Machias gas station about 8 p.m. Dec. 24, 2007, while a friend was inside the business making a purchase. Strout approached the plaintiff and told her she would be arrested if she did not leave, the document indicates. The woman and the friend had been at a local tavern, where the woman had consumed two beers, according to the complaint.

The woman was confused by Strout’s order to leave, according to the lawsuit, and tried to show the officer that she was not a threat and not armed by taking her coat off and starting to lift her sweater. When she did that, she said Strout accused her of stripping in public, according to the complaint. At that point, she raised her hands in the air and Strout reacted by grabbing her wrist and repeatedly slamming her head onto the trunk of his cruiser, the complaint indicates.

He also is accused of fondling her breast as he tried to handcuff her and then of hitting her in the eye with a can of Mace and spraying its entire contents into her eyes. The woman lost consciousness when she then fell to the ground, according to the complaint.

The woman suffered a cut to her right eye, fractured ribs, a bruised hip and a permanently injured back in the alleged assault, the complaint indicates, and should have been taken to the hospital for treatment of her injuries before being taken to the jail.

Strout later claimed the woman was intoxicated and loitering at the gas station and charged her with assault on an officer and resisting arrest. Eighteen months later, as a result of a jury trial in Washington County Superior Court, the woman was found not guilty of the charges, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit claims that Strout is “known as a stalker and abuser of women” and that he had a “custom and practice” of stalking and assaulting Washington County residents. Dwelley and the town knew or should have known about Strout’s pattern of behavior and did not take proper steps to address it or to protect her rights, the complaint alleges.

Strout, the town and Dwelley already are facing two other lawsuits filed separately in federal court this spring by two women who say they were assaulted and fondled by Strout when he detained them while they were walking home from a tavern in late May 2010. The two women, who were UMaine Machias students at the time, were charged by Strout with assault on an officer, assault, refusing to submit to arrest and criminal mischief, but all of the charges against both women subsequently were dropped in Washington County Superior Court.

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