Washington County sheriff, Machias selectmen spar over police assisting deputies

Posted Sept. 12, 2013, at 2:49 p.m.
Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith talks to BDN reporter Mario Moretto and photographer Kevin Bennett during a video interview on Wednesday, May 29, 2013.
Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith talks to BDN reporter Mario Moretto and photographer Kevin Bennett during a video interview on Wednesday, May 29, 2013. Buy Photo

MACHIAS, Maine — Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith now says he will not seek a meeting with the Machias Board of Selectmen after one board member publicly complained recently about the town’s police force being used to assist sheriff’s deputies.

The flare-up over the recurring issue has been resolved to his satisfaction, according to Smith, who referred further questions to Town Manager Chris Loughlin.

Loughlin said that he and Smith have discussed the issue and that it appears there is nothing to be resolved.

“It’s basically we understand when our officers are going to have to go out and back up officers in other adjacent municipalities simply because we are the only law enforcement,” Loughlin said Wednesday. Machias police officers also will back up deputies at times, he noted.

“Our officers also understand it’s not something to be taken lightly,” added Loughlin. “It’s a nonissue, really. It’s just using common sense, I guess.

“It’s something that we’ve kind of always understood,” said Loughlin. It was “kind of surprising” when Selectman Warran Gay raised the issue at a board meeting two weeks ago, he said.

Gay, who was agitated when he brought up the matter at the Aug. 28 board meeting, was not entirely mollified by the turn of events.

Loughlin told him the issue was settled, Gay said Wednesday. However, when Gay was asked if he was satisfied the issue had been put to rest, he said, “No. It’ll never be settled as far as I’m concerned.”

“This has been going on for years,” said Gay “We have to put up with it, I guess.”

“I still don’t agree with it,” he added. “I’m going to go and talk to Donnie about it, too.”

Gay remarked at the board’s regular Aug. 28 meeting that the town’s small police force frequently is summoned to back up the sheriff’s deputies, but Machias receives nothing from the county in return to help pay for the cost of staffing its police department.

“If we’re going to back them up, we need some support from the county,” said Gay. Loughlin suggested a reduction in county taxes would be appropriate.

In an interview later, Gay pointed out that neighboring small communities such as Jonesboro, Machiasport, Roque Bluffs and others do not have their own police forces. Machias police respond to calls for law enforcement service in those communities, he said, which is not fair to the taxpayers of Machias. The other communities should pay for that kind of assistance, he suggested.

Machias police officers frequently are called to assist sheriff’s deputies, said Gay. “And a lot of times, the Machias Police Department is there before the sheriff’s office is.”

Another board member, Danny Manchester, expressed a similar view when he discussed the issue this week.

“I think the biggest concern,” Manchester said Sunday, is whether the town’s police officers are assisting other communities and there is an automobile accident or other incident in Machias that requires police attention. In those circumstances, he explained, the town’s police department is not available to help the people “who are paying for it.”

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