BREWER, Maine — A Brewer police officer, in responding to a report of a daylight burglary at a notorious abandoned house on Thursday, drew his gun and confronted two Bangor Daily News journalists who were inspecting the home with a city official on a story assignment.
Assistant City Manager James Smith was showing reporter Nok-Noi Ricker and photographer Ashley Conti around a city-owned, foreclosed ranch house at 91 Longmeadow Drive at about 2:30 p.m., which triggered a report to police.
Sgt. Fred Luce drove up in a patrol car and confronted the journalists with his gun drawn, according to Ricker and Conti.
Conti said Luce yelled, “Hey, what are you doing here! Come over here!” The police officer pointed his weapon first at her, and then Ricker, in the backyard for about 10 seconds, even though they identified themselves as journalists, they said.
“The second he saw me he raised it to my chest,” Conti said. “It stayed raised until he saw the city official.”
The police officer told Conti, Ricker and Smith that he was responding to a report of teenagers trespassing at the house, a residence to which police had responded to 155 reports of criminal activity since 2014. Luce also scolded Smith for not alerting police the house was going to be visited.
Brewer Public Safety Director Jason Moffitt said in an email Thursday evening that “Sergeant [Fred] Luce utilized the appropriate level of force and the appropriate tactics for what initially appeared to be a felony crime in progress.”
According to Moffitt, “Sergeant Luce acted in a professional manner and responded to this event in a manner that this department expects. It should be noted that Sergeant Luce is a decorated 20-year veteran with the Brewer Police Department.”
The Brewer police account of how Luce was holding his weapon differs from what Conti and Ricker relayed.
Moffitt said in the email, “Sergeant Luce has his service weapon at a low ready, meaning that it was out of its holster but not pointed directly at anyone, which is a typical police response that falls within policy and procedure for this type of incident.”
Ricker, however, said, “He had the gun pointed at Ashley’s head.” She said that when Luce turned away from the photographer to face her, he was also holding the gun level with her chest or head.
“It was scary. It was uncalled for, unnerving and unnecessary,” Conti said.
Moffitt said given that the officer was dealing with a burglary call, Luce’s behavior was appropriate regardless of where he was pointing his weapon, “depending on his assessment of the situation.”
Moffitt said that the only police camera was on the the patrol car and did not record the encounter.
BDN Executive Editor Anthony Ronzio called Thursday afternoon’s incident “troubling.”
“I am very glad that it was cleared up very quickly,” he said. “While I understand the background of the property and its recent history, today’s situation seemed like something that could have been handled easier with a simple question.”
Abandoned since July when the city took possession for unpaid property taxes, the house has been the scene of assaults, drug sales and burglaries. The BDN journalists were reporting on the city’s plans to repair and sell the house.
Luce did not respond to a telephone message left Thursday.