June 25, 2018
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Angry, scared Howland residents air frustrations with crime at boisterous public meeting

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

HOWLAND, Maine — Frustrated, angry and sometimes fearful residents turned out in force Tuesday night to air concerns about the recent vicious assault, burglaries, drug activity and juvenile problems in Howland.

About 200 residents packed into the Hichborn Middle School gymnasium for a meeting that had to be moved from the town office because there wasn’t enough room.

The meeting was scheduled in response to local outrage over a brutal Aug. 17 assault that left two men, ages 30 and 31, with facial fractures, broken ribs and missing teeth.

Brandon T. Summerson, 21, of Enfield; Howland brothers John T. McKinnon, 21, and Henry R. McKinnon, 27; and Charles W. Gardner, 20, also of Howland, each were charged with two counts of aggravated assault in connection with the incident.

State police said in an affidavit that the fight started over money used to buy beer instead of drugs.

The Bangor Daily News is not identifying the injured men because they are apparent victims in the assault and have not been charged with any crimes.

But on Tuesday, few residents talked directly about the assault. Most were concerned about the apparent drug activity that led up to the attack, protecting their properties, and the behavior of juveniles in town.

Early in the meeting, Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross clarified situations in which use of deadly force by a resident would be considered legal. Ross said he had received several questions from people in town about when it would be OK to shoot an intruder in their home or garage.

Ross said deadly force is allowed when the individual’s life is threatened or an intruder enters the home and the person has been warned to leave, but garages don’t count as living quarters.

Some residents said they wouldn’t hesitate to defend their property if it was threatened.

Resident Jay Nadeau said deadly force rules might not prevent him from putting a “slug of birdshot into someone’s leg” if they were doing damage to his property.

“I think part of the problem is that everybody feels afraid,” Howland resident Marisa LeBlanc said.

Many residents said they were “fed up” with individuals like those involved in the assault, who they say have caused drug and crime problems in the community for years.

Others were frustrated with youths who ride skateboards recklessly in the streets, staying out late and making noise late into the night and early in the morning. The youths and individuals residents blame for drug problems and disturbances in town were frequently referred to as “little punks” during the meeting.

Some locals criticized police for not patrolling frequently enough in the area and not taking action when crimes are reported. State police and the Sheriff’s Department share coverage of the area.

Ross said that Penobscot County is divided into six zones from Patten to Dixmont. Coverage of those zones is split evenly between the Sheriff’s Department and state police, who rotate which three zones they cover periodically.

Maine State Police Lt. Wesley D. Hussey, commander of the Orono barracks, also attended the meeting.

State police and Sheriff’s Department personnel have checked in on the two brothers involved in the fight at least three times since they posted $10,000 cash bail on Aug. 20, according to Ross and Hussey. Under the terms of their release, the brothers must submit to random searches and police checks.

Police said they had received tips that the brothers might have been together or been out past their curfew, both of which are violations of their bail conditions. Police followed up on those tips and found that the brothers were in compliance with the terms of their release.

“We are going to keep up the pressure on them to make sure they stay that way,” Hussey said.

Several residents, including LeBlanc, said they understood it was difficult for the state police and Sheriff’s Department to cover such a large area with limited resources and that it was up to people in town to do their part to find solutions.

“You obviously can’t be in every place at every time,” LeBlanc said to Ross and Hussey. “It takes us as citizens to work together to get these punks under control.”

Locals offered several possible solutions to the problems with crime, including starting a neighborhood watch, hiring a part-time constable and even establishing a curfew or starting community programs to give children something to do.

One message that was repeated frequently: If a resident sees a crime or problem, they should report it.

The town will discuss the potential for establishing a curfew, as well as other options, during the next selectmen’s meeting.

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