BAR HARBOR, Maine — Nate Young, the local police chief who was placed on paid administrative leave Oct. 1, said he recently spent 31 days at a rehab facility in Pennsylvania for treatment of alcoholism.
But in interviews this week with the Bangor Daily News, Young insisted that he was not under the influence of alcohol and did nothing wrong in a Sept. 25 incident that led to his being placed on leave by Town Manager Dana Reed. According to Young, he is accused of being drunk when, while he was off-duty, he drove away from police officers in his department who were checking on his well-being.
Young said Wednesday that he is ready, willing and able to get back to work as police chief but that the incident is being unfairly exploited in an attempt to push him out of the job he has held for the past 22 years. He said that based on conversations he has had with Reed, he believes the town manager is getting pressure — he said he was not sure from whom — to use the incident as a reason to fire him.
“I knew I was not going to be treated fairly [when placed on leave],” Young said. “I certainly feel I am being wronged by this process. I deserve to retain my job as police chief.”
Reed, citing the confidential nature of personnel matters, has declined to comment on the reasons Young has been placed on leave and did so again on Thursday.
Young said that if he is fired, he can appeal a termination decision by Reed to the seven-member Town Council, but he is not sure he has enough support on the council to overturn such a decision by the town manager. For that reason, he added, he thinks the matter will wind up in court.
“This system I am going up against is wrong,” Young said. “I don’t think I have an alternative.”
According to Young, twice in the past year Reed has received anonymous letters about Young that have prompted Reed to consider whether information in the letters might warrant action by the town. Young declined to say what was alleged in the first letter, which was sent to Reed in May, but said that in the end Reed decided it did not warrant any action by the town. Nonetheless, Young said, he needed a break from work and took some vacation time off after that first complaint.
The second incident, Young said, came at a time when he was beset with personal problems which he would describe only as family-related. He said he was in his pickup truck parked at a business in the local village of Town Hill on the night of Sept. 25 and contemplating those problems when a passing motorist called police to report that someone appeared to be slumped over the steering wheel of the truck.
Young said two of his officers came to investigate and one got out and approached his truck on foot to check on him. He said his response to the officer, whom he declined to identify, was terse.
“I said, ‘I’m fine.’ I was in a mood because I had a personal thing I was dealing with,” Young said. “I was not drunk. It is not grounds for me being forced out of my job.”
Young then drove back home, he said. His brief conversation with the officer was not recorded, he said, and at no point during the exchange did the officer ask him about alcohol. Aside from rumors, he added, the town has no reason to conclude he was intoxicated at the time.
While Young has been on leave, the town’s police operations have been overseen first by the department’s senior staff and since Nov. 5 by James Willis, the police chief in the neighboring town of Mount Desert. With approval by elected officials in each town, Willis has agreed to split his time between the two towns for now.
Reed said Thursday that the town still is awaiting the results of an investigation being conducted by Jon Goodman, a lawyer and former internal investigator for the Portland Police Department, who was hired by the town at the recommendation of the town’s legal counsel, the law firm Bernstein Shur.
Reed said he did not know how soon Goodman might submit his report to Bar Harbor officials or how much longer Young might remain on leave. He added, however, that he would be willing to comment on why Young has been placed on leave if Young would sign a release authorizing Reed to speak about it.
Young said he would not sign any release to authorize Reed to say things that are not true. The town manager should say what is on his mind, Young said.
Young’s attorney, Gregg Frame of Portland, declined Friday to comment specifically about the allegations against Young. He said that Young’s employment status with the town should be determined by the official record, not by anything else. Young was with the department for nearly eight years before becoming the chief in 1991.
“I feel pretty confident a 29-year career shouldn’t be subject to a political process,” Frame said. “He deserves to be the chief there and people want him to be the chief there.”
The embattled police chief said that though he has had a drinking problem for “several years,” his drinking never affected his performance on the job. He declined to characterize what kind of experiences he had with his admitted drinking problem. He said he always has held the interests of Bar Harbor’s year-round residents “at the forefront” of his approach to his work.
“I have had zero blemishes on my record,” he said. “I am willing to see [this process] to its end.”
Young said his drinking worsened after being placed on leave on Oct. 1 and he was urged to seek treatment by a friend. He has not touched a drop, he said, since Oct. 16, the day before he went into rehab. He returned from the treatment facility on Nov. 16, he said.
“My life was becoming unmanageable,” Young said, without getting into specifics. “[Getting help] is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.”
He said he has decided to publicize his situation because his career is at stake. He said he wants to return to his job, despite the controversy and the bad feelings it has caused.
“I feel it is important that everyone knows the situation that I am in,” Young said. “It would be difficult to return to work, but it would be difficult to leave under these circumstances.”