Fired Bar Harbor police chief’s lawsuit to be heard in federal court

Nate Young
Bill Trotter | BDN
Nate Young Buy Photo
Posted April 16, 2014, at 3:31 p.m.
Last modified April 16, 2014, at 3:48 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — A lawsuit filed against the town by its former police chief has been transferred to federal court in Bangor.

Nathan Young, who was the town’s police chief for 29 years, filed suit against Bar Harbor last month in Hancock County Superior Court, alleging that his rights were violated when he was fired in January.

In his court complaint, Young claims he was denied due process, that his firing was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, legally erroneous” and “unsupported by substantial evidence in the record,” and that the town breached its employment contract with him by firing him without just cause.

Young was fired after having been placed on paid administrative leave last fall in the wake of a Sept. 25 incident in the local village of Town Hill. Bar Harbor police received a report that a man, who turned out to be Young, was slumped over the steering wheel of a pickup truck parked outside a local business.

An investigator hired by the town to look into the incident concluded that Young had broken the law by driving drunk and had pressured officers in his department who came to investigate his well-being not to pursue the matter.

Young has denied being drunk or pressuring officers during the incident, and he appealed his firing by Town Manager Dana Reed to the Bar Harbor Town Council. At the end of a six-hour hearing on Feb. 26, which was open to the public at Young’s request, the council voted 5-2 to uphold Reed’s decision to fire Young.

Young subsequently filed suit against the town.

Mark Franco, the town’s attorney, filed a notice of removal last week in U.S. District Court in Bangor, transferring the case to the federal court.

Franco said Tuesday that part of Young’s complaint alleges that the town violated federal law. He said that he plans to file a motion later this week to dismiss the case in federal court. Young was given due process, had adequate opportunity to respond, and his termination was proper, Franco said.

“Federal court is better equipped at interpreting federal law,” Franco said. “If the court doesn’t dismiss it, it will stay there.”

Franco said that the court likely will issue a decision on the motion to dismiss by mid-June. He said a federal judge could dismiss the case, allow it to move forward, or dismiss part of it and send the rest back to state court.

Gregg Frame, Young’s attorney, said Tuesday that though the transfer to federal court is automatic with the town’s notice of removal, he is not opposed to it. He said the matter might be adjudicated more quickly in federal court than in state Superior Court.

“I didn’t have any objection [to the case being transferred]” Frame said.

James Willis, the police chief in the neighboring town of Mount Desert, has been serving as Bar Harbor’s interim police chief since last fall, splitting his time between the two towns. Reed said Wednesday that arrangement can be terminated with seven days notice by either town, but it is expected to continue for the indefinite future.

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