BANGOR, Maine — Brian Strout looked into the eyes of evil during his 25 years with the Maine State Police.
“I’ve interviewed people who are just evil,” Strout, 57, of Bangor said recently. “Jeff Cookson is one of the most evil people you could meet. Joe Albert is another one. They’re just evil people. They have no souls.”
Cookson, 49, is serving two life sentences for the December 1999 murders of Mindy Gould, 20, and 21-month-old Treven Cunningham, both of Dexter.
Albert, age unknown, was sentenced in April 1984 to 70 years in prison in connection with the death of 20-year-old Justine Gridley. Her body was found in the woods in LaGrange 13 months earlier.
Strout retired in May after nine years as a trooper out of the Orono barracks and 16 years as a detective in what is now called the Major Crimes Unit, located in Bangor. He was the primary investigator on 15 homicides and worked on hundreds of cases investigating serious crimes.
“We investigate all the rotten, stinking, puking things that people do to one another,” he said of being a detective. “That’s what we do. That’s our job. Somebody has to do it. People ask me all the time, ‘Why do you do it?’ Well, if not me, who?”
Strout graduated from Bangor High School in 1974, then worked a series of jobs in the Bangor area before deciding in the mid-1980s to take courses in legal technology at University College, now the University of Maine at Augusta, in Bangor. He went to school while working full-time at the paper mill in Old Town.
“That whole time, I always wanted to be in law enforcement,” he said. “I was in the Maine Air National Guard six years as a security officer and that gave me a taste for it. And, I knew that God had a better calling for me.”
“I really wanted to be an investigator,” Strout continued. “I have just always loved puzzles and I felt I had a good rapport with people.”
He also knew that he had to pay his dues first. Strout was hired by the Maine State Police in 1988. He patrolled northern Penobscot County and volunteered for additional training.
Strout was one of the first troopers in the state to go through a drug recognition program that trained police officers to identify the types of drugs people had consumed by analyzing their behaviors. He became an instructor in the program and traveled the country training others.
In the early 1990s, Strout helped initiate a mock accident program that teaches high school students the dangers of drinking and driving. It is now an annual event at many high schools throughout the state.
Strout joined what was called the Criminal Investigations Division in 1997. His ability to communicate easily with people is one of the things that made Strout a good investigator, his former boss, Lt. Christopher Coleman, said last month just before his colleague retired.
“Brian has the ability to make anyone he speaks to feel comfortable. He can identify with them and finds common ground when communicating,” Coleman said. “Whether dealing with a victim, suspect or witnesses, Brian shows compassion and understanding to their circumstances.”
But doing that day in and day out was one of the emotionally draining aspects of the job, Strout said.
“Emotionally, the toughest cases were always child abuse and child death cases,” he said. “Those are the ones that take their toll, I think, more than anything. We’re only human and we have kids.
“ You show up at the hospital and there’s a 5-week-old or 3-month-old that is all beaten and battered and broken and, then, you have to try to convince the person who’s responsible that you understand [what happened] to get them to talk to you,” he continued. “I don’t think people understand how draining that is on a person. It’s very difficult.”
The biggest change to how detectives approach the job has been the advent of cellphones, computers and social media, according to Strout.
“ Social media has created an atmosphere where we have to give a lot more resources to our cases,” he said. “A young person can be on their cellphone and computer before you leave their driveways calling everyone on your suspect list. Today, investigators have to coordinate how we interview people and obtain warrants early in investigations to search cellphones and computers.”
The digital trail provided by all that data can be crucial in many cases, Strout added. The examination of cellphone records helped lead to the conviction of Daniel Porter, 25, of Jackson for manslaughter in the death of Florida firefighter Jerry Perdomo. Porter was sentenced in April to 30 years in prison with all but 16 suspended for killing Perdomo, 31, on Feb. 16, 2012, over a drug debt Porter owed the Florida man.
Strout, who attends All Souls Congregational Church in Bangor, said that his faith helped sustain him during his 25 years with the state police.
“It takes a lot of intestinal fortitude to do the job,” he said. “My faith has carried me through my career. God chose this path for me. I firmly believe that. And, he’s been with me the whole time. That’s what’s enabled me to do this job because there are days when you go — ‘I just don’t understand how people can be so cruel to each other.’”
Strout plans to coach Bangor Youth Football this fall and help train a new generation of detectives through a program at the United Technologies Center on Hogan Road in Bangor.
Fred Woodman, director of UTC, said last month that students have been expressing an interest in law enforcement for a long time. Earlier this year, the school received a $17,000 federal grant to develop curriculum for a program.
Woodman said he wants Strout to help develop and eventually teach in the pre-law enforcement program.
“We feel this will fit in well with our public safety program, which offers students a chance to learn about what firefighters and EMTs do,” Woodman said.
More than 500 students from seven high schools in Bangor, Brewer, Old Town, Orono, Corinth, Hampden and Hermon attend UTC, Woodman said.
“I see a lot of promise in young people,” Strout said when asked why he decided to teach. “I know it’s going to be a challenge for me but they are faced with so many more challenges than I ever had at their age.”