The top prosecutor for Hancock County said that he doubts anyone will be charged as a result of a June 20 incident in which someone flung a noose over utility wires on Little Deer Isle in the town of Deer Isle.
Nooses are considered racist symbols because of their historic use in the murders of Black people, and displaying them in places with the intent of intimidating or harassing passersby can be prosecuted as a hate crime.
Matthew Foster, the county’s district attorney, said police have not yet submitted the case to his office for his review, and that he does not think they will unless they can find more viable evidence. He said someone removed the noose from a telephone wire by the side of Route 15 after a photograph of it was posted on social media, but before police arrived at the scene. As a result, any physical evidence taken from the noose likely would be considered tainted, or arguably tampered with, and would make it difficult to prosecute a case in court, he said.
Foster also said police have found no witnesses who have said they saw who flung the noose over the roadside wire.
“There were no witnesses identified and finding out who did it is likely impossible without a witness or some DNA or other physical evidence,” Foster said.
The incident occurred amid ongoing nationwide protests over systemic racism and police brutality of Black people that have rocked Maine and cities across the country in the last several months.
Attempts Friday to contact the Maine State Police, which has been investigating the case, were unsuccessful.
Blue Hill resident Jason Lepper, an arborist and former police officer who worked for both the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office and Maine State Police, is the person who removed the noose. He said Friday that police should have responded and collected the noose when it was reported on June 19, and not allowed it to stay up overnight.
June 19, commonly known as Juneteenth, is the date in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, with news that President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had abolished slavery more than two years earlier.
“I think it warranted a thorough investigation so the community could at least have some answers as to whether it was seriously intended to create fear and a threat of violence, a stupid prank or something else,” Lepper said Friday. “Charges would depend on the intent of the action. Regardless of the intent, the result was legitimate fear and uneasiness among many residents I spoke with.”
At the time of the incident, a local resident who has been organizing peaceful anti-racism protests in front of the Blue Hill town hall shared a photo of the noose that her friend had taken on Facebook, where by the next morning it was shared more than 1,000 times.
The woman, Mina Mattes, said the section of Route 15 where the noose was displayed was a “hotspot for this racist tug of war” where Black Lives Matter signs on telephone poles and private property have been stolen or vandalized and a “white lives matter” sign was put up in the yard of a nearby house.