THOMASTON, Maine — A former local police officer and public works employee was found guilty this week of failing to report a crash where he drove a snow plow into a parked car and of later tampering with another officer’s report in the incident.
Michael Blais, 64, was found guilty of the crimes on Tuesday by a jury in a trial held in Knox County Superior Court.
Judge Bruce Mallonee imposed but then vacated a 14-day jail sentence for the two misdemeanor charges of tampering with evidence. The judge also imposed fines of $800 for the tampering charges and $200 for two counts of failing to report the crash. He did not impose any probation.
The crash in question took place on Feb. 8, 2016, when Blais was driving a snow plow while working an evening shift for public works during a snowstorm. As he was plowing a parking lot, Blais backed the plow into a Chevrolet pickup truck.
Blais knew the pickup owner, Alexander Libby, but did not file an incident report, according to court documents. State law requires that police be notified of vehicle crashes that cause more than $1,000 in damage. Damage to the pickup later was estimated to be $1,047.
Blais immediately told his public works supervisor, as well as Police Chief Kevin Haj, but couldn’t get in touch with the vehicle owner until the following day. The following morning, Libby came in to report the damage to his pickup and Haj gave him the town’s insurance information.
One of Blais’ supervisors, Sgt. Timothy Hoppe, filed a report into the police department’s record system about the accident but several days later, Hoppe discovered that his report had been altered without his knowing, which he reported to Haj, according to court documents.
Haj launched an internal investigation into the incident but, because he and Hoppe did not initially intend to file charges, Blais was not read his Miranda rights, according to court documents. Blais was questioned by Hoppe, who also was Blais’ union representative, and by Haj.
Blais gave them incriminating answers, thinking it was just a disciplinary meeting, and later argued in court that he should have been read his Miranda rights. He was put on administrative leave in May of last year and let go from the police department earlier this year.
Blais was represented by attorney Michael Cuniff of Portland who did not respond to a message seeking comment. The case was prosecuted by Penobscot County Assistant District Attorney Stephen Burlock because of Blais’ familiarity with local prosecutors through his work as a police officer.