ROCKLAND, Maine — A couple were arrested Thursday morning after police said they refused to leave a tent site on private property where they had been living with three children.
Both the minister of the church that owns the land where the couple had set up their tent site and the lead police officer in the case said Friday that every effort had been made to help the couple and avoid their arrest.
Stephanie L. Dodge, 29, of Thomaston and Troy E. Weaver, 33, of Warren were arrested by Rockland police and charged with criminal trespass. They were taken to the Knox County Jail where they were held in lieu of $2,000 cash bail.
On Friday afternoon, both pleaded guilty to the charge and were sentenced to 48 hours in jail. They did not speak during the brief hearing before Judge Patricia Worth in Rockland District Court other than to acknowledge they understood their rights and wanted to plead guilty.
On Wednesday morning, police received a report that Dodge appeared to be extremely impaired and had a young girl with her, according to an affidavit filed by the Rockland Police Department in Rockland District Court. A Rockland officer found Dodge later that morning at the Park Street Mobil station and reportedly determined her to be very impaired. The girl was not with the woman at that time, but Dodge mentioned that the child was at the tent site with Weaver, according to the affidavit.
The officer said he was concerned about the children and their living conditions and went to find the tent site. He found it in the woods behind the Congregational Church of Rockland. The girl was there, but two other children — boys believed to be age 10 and 12 — were at a friend’s house and not at the tent when the officer arrived.
The officer said that Weaver also was impaired but not to the extent that he could not care for the child, according to the affidavit.
Detective Sgt. Chris Young said Friday that he, two other officers and a representative from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services went to the tent site and spoke with the couple for three hours Wednesday to convince them that they could not stay there. Young pointed out that there was no bathroom facility and no place for them to clean themselves.
The police affidavit also stated that there was a standing order by the church not to have people tent there.
The Rev. Seth Jones of the church said Friday that the wooded area was not an appropriate place for a family to live. He said he could not go into details about efforts made to help the family but said a lot had been done for them. Jones is involved with the Midcoast Housing Coalition.
Young agreed that every effort was made to help the couple.
“The last thing we wanted to do was arrest them,” Young said. “We exhausted all our options for them. They just would not cooperate.”
The couple eventually agreed Wednesday to have the young girl go with Weaver’s grandmother, Young said.
The couple then were informed that they had to be off the site by the end of the day Wednesday, Young said. He said when officers left that day there were several hours of daylight left.
Police returned shortly after 9 a.m. Thursday and Weaver and Dodge were still there and nothing had been packed for moving. The couple argued that they had the remainder of the day to move, according to the affidavit.
The two then were arrested. DHHS arranged for the boys to stay with a friend.
Defense attorney William Pagnano said he expects the police will escort the couple after their release to retrieve their tent and belongings.