Is political criticism a threat? Former Maine lawmaker complains to sheriff about current legislator

Posted March 03, 2014, at 2:55 p.m.
Last modified March 03, 2014, at 5:10 p.m.
Wes Richardson in 2004.
Wes Richardson in 2004.

ROCKLAND, Maine — A former state representative who is seeking to return to the Maine House filed a complaint last month with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office claiming he felt personally threatened by a current legislator’s criticism.

But the candidate who lodged the complaint, former Rep. Wes Richardson, a Republican from Warren, later acknowledged that there was no threat.

The chief deputy of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office said that no crime occurred and no action will be taken.

Richardson confirmed Saturday that he filed the complaint after a third party contacted him about statements made by independent state Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos of Friendship.

Richardson acknowledged Saturday that Evangelos made no threats against him. Instead, he said he went to the sheriff’s office after he heard Evangelos was criticizing him about a political flier that had been circulated to residents in the 2012 election for House District 49, which Evangelos won.

Evangelos said Monday that Richardson owes an apology to both him and the sheriff’s office for making a false complaint.

“Richardson’s fabricated claim against me spells a new low in our local politics,” Evangelos said Monday.

Richardson said, however, that he may take the matter to the Maine Commission on Ethics and Election Practices.

Richardson said that the constituent, whom he declined to identify, had contacted him after meeting with Evangelos on Jan. 31. Richardson initially said he felt personally threatened by the remarks made by Evangelos to the constituent.

When asked specifically what it is that he claims the legislator said, Richardson said the threat complaint derived from Evangelos’ criticism of him for a 2012 flier that a political group with which Richardson was associated distributed to voters in an effort to convince them not to vote for Evangelos.

Richardson denied any involvement in the flier and wants Evangelos to stop bringing up the subject. The Republican said by continuing to refer to the flier, Evangelos makes him concerned about his personal safety.

Richardson and Evangelos are not running against each other. The two had been in the same district. Richardson defeated Evangelos in 2004 when Evangelos was a Democrat. Richardson served four two-year terms but could not seek re-election in 2012 due to the state’s term limits law.

Evangelos ran as an independent in 2012 in that district and defeated Republican Robert Carter of Warren.

In that 2012 race, a political action committee mailed out a flier that referred to Evangelos as an extremist. The flier contained a photo of Evangelos with an explosive ready to detonate under his face.

Evangelos criticized that flier two years ago as being over the line in terms of political discourse. Richardson was a member of the PAC that funded the flier.

This year, legislative redistricting moved Friendship — Evangelos’ hometown — outside of the district in which Richardson resides.

Evangelos said he was called by the chief deputy of the sheriff’s office on Feb. 19 and initially thought the department was calling about two bills that he was working on concerning public safety. The Friendship area representative said when the chief deputy told him that Richardson had filed a complaint against him, he was in disbelief.

“Let me get this straight, this PAC can send attack mailers out, calling me extreme, picturing explosives under my face ready to detonate and that’s OK. But I dare to talk about the public documented record of who was behind it and I land in the sheriff’s office?” Evangelos said.

He labeled Richardson’s complaint a politically motivated effort to destroy him and his chances at re-election.

“I document a public fact concerning his role as a decision maker and he runs to the sheriff like a squealing puppy with his tail between his legs and tries to have me silenced. If it wasn’t so pathetic, it would be funny,” Evangelos said.

Chief Deputy Tim Carroll said that after speaking with both parties, the sheriff’s department will take no action on Richardson’s complaint.

“It’s not a criminal issue. Unfortunately, it’s the way of politics,” Carroll said.

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