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An attorney representing Don McLean demanded this month that a local media outlet unpublish a story about a Camden photo exhibit of domestic abuse survivors created by the songwriter’s ex-wife, Patrisha.
Don McLean in July 2016 pleaded guilty to six charges — including domestic violence assault, domestic violence criminal threatening, criminal mischief and criminal restraint — after Patrisha said he pinned her down, hit her for hours, threatened to kill her and refused to let her leave their Camden home.
The arrest and the ensuing media coverage were overwhelming. But over time, as more women she knew approached her and opened up about their own domestic abuse stories, Patrisha McLean said she found freedom and solidarity.
The more she talked to survivors, the more she was inspired to tell their stories. That led the photojournalist to create “Finding Our Voices,” a multimedia project about domestic violence featuring 18 survivors that will be on display through the end of February at Camden Public Library.
“No one talks about it,” she said. “We keep our voices hidden. And when we finally get a chance to speak, there’s so much to say.”
Attorney Rick Morse of Rockland claimed that writer Andy O’Brien’s article about that exhibit in the Free Press contained “false and extremely defamatory” claims about Don McLean, and threatened to sue if the Free Press did not immediately remove the story from its website.
Morse also denied that his client had ever assaulted his former wife, said that no testimony about any abuse had ever been presented to a court in Maine and said that Patrisha McLean should not have been part of the domestic violence exhibition in the first place.
“Patrisha McLean was not ‘hiding her secret for so many years,’” Morse wrote. “There is absolutely no basis or justification for this statement that you publish as a fact.”
The folk singer, who maintained during the entire process that he was innocent, faced up to a year in prison. But under conditions of a deferred disposition agreement that he accepted, the assault charges were dropped and McLean was required to pay fines on the remaining three convictions — $1,000 for each, plus fees — after avoiding any further legal problems within the following year.
He complied with those conditions and, in July 2017, Don McLean paid $3,660 to end the domestic violence case against him.
Alice McFadden, the publisher of The Free Press and the interim general manager of Courier Publications, pushed back against the lawyer’s claims in a Feb. 21 article published on the Village Soup’s website, and included a response from Sigmund D. Schutz of Preti Flaherty, the attorney representing the newspaper.
“The Free Press had every right to publish what Patrisha McLean has to say, regardless of her ex-husband’s objection, and the public deserves to have continued access to information about the ‘Finding Our Voices’ exhibit at the Camden Public Library,” Schutz wrote in conclusion of the letter.
For Patrisha McLean, who still holds a protection-from-abuse order against her ex-husband, Morse’s letter was unwelcome but not exactly a surprise.
“My private hell since I left Don is that he has a lot of lawyers. He’s been tormenting me with his lawyers since I left him,” she said. “My stomach was in knots again, and I thought, ‘He is going to shut down what I’m doing.’ He’s going to send lawyers’ letters to every person involved in this project. To the media. To venues. He’s going to do that.’ I was so depressed.”
The response from The Free Press was a huge relief. It was powerful to feel that people were on her side, Patrisha McLean said.
“You do get strength from others. You realize you’re not alone,” she said. “I’m going to continue to collect these voices. We were all in our private hell. We were in it alone, and now it’s not private anymore. It’s been exposed. We’re healing, and we’re helping others.”
Her exhibit is scheduled to be displayed in May at the Goody B. Gallery in Castine and from Sept. 15 to Dec. 15 at the Holocaust and Human Rights Museum in Augusta. She’d like to find venues in Bangor and Portland, too.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.