A Maine judge will have the final word in a boundary dispute that led a Dover-Foxcroft man to cut his neighbor’s garage in half last year.
Gabriel Brawn used a land surveyor’s demarcation between the two lots as a guide to remove the half of the building he believed was sitting on his land when a dispute over the boundary line boiled over the day after Memorial Day.
When he cut the garage in half with a Sawzall, Brawn believed that his property line ran down the middle of it. He allegedly dismantled the other half of the garage and left the debris and contents on his neighbor’s land.
Brawn and his family had moved back to Dover-Foxcroft in 2012 to live in the home where he had grown up at 140 Grove St. — a property that once included the 0.23 acres just to the south that is now 148 Grove St. That property, which included a single-family home and the garage, is owned by Blake Ritter of Bowerbank and his mother, Theresa A. Laythe-Ritter of Cleveland, Oklahoma, who left Dover-Foxcroft in 2019.
After widespread media coverage of the incident in late July, the Ritters sued Brawn and his wife, Tracy Brawn, in Piscataquis County Superior Court in August.
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Gabriel Brawn is representing himself and his wife in the lawsuit.
“I would like to have seen a better resolution [to the dispute] myself,” he said Tuesday.
Gabriel Brawn described Blake Ritter as “a terrible neighbor” who had late-night parties and was rude to the Brawns and their children.
Tracy Brawn declined to comment.
In addition to their neighbors, the mother and son, who are represented by attorney Gerald Nessmann of Dexter, sued Pacific and Southern, Inc., which owns NBC affiliates in Bangor and Portland; NBCUniversal Media, LLC, which operates New England Cable News; and that network’s reporter, Dustin Wlodkowski of Portland, who is accused of trespassing on the Ritters’ property. All three stations broadcast Wlodkowski’s July 24 interview with Gabriel Brawn by the damaged garage.
Also named in the lawsuit are Darrell Miles of Glenburn, whom Brawn hired to survey the property on which the garage was located, and Dean Rideout of Dover-Foxcroft, who owned and may have operated the crane used in cutting the garage in half.
Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, Superior Court Justice William Anderson ordered the Brawns to set aside $150,000 to pay future damages, as it was more likely than not that the Ritters would prevail in a trial. The judge also ordered the Brawns to stay off the Ritters’ property.
The complaint demanded about $450,000 in punitive damages from the defendants. It also asked that the Ritters be paid $35,000, the estimated cost of removing debris and replacing the garage, an undetermined amount to replace two trees that allegedly contained ingrown pieces of an old wire fence that showed evidence of the correct boundary line and the $300 per month in rent the Ritters allegedly lost after a tenant moved out over the dispute.
On Tuesday, the garage looked like it did in July.
The dispute began in April 2020 when the Brawns began having wood chips placed between their property and a retaining wall on the Ritters’ lot that marked the property line, the complaint said. Blake Ritter asked the Brawns to remove them, as the wood chips clogged the drains in the retaining wall.
Former Dover-Foxcroft Police Chief Ryan Reardon reviewed the deed to the Ritter property at Blake Ritter’s request. Reardon, who resigned in October after being charged with domestic violence assault, allegedly told the Brawns to remove the wood chips. However, the couple continued to have them delivered and placed by the retaining wall, the complaint said.
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In May, the Brawns allegedly hired surveyor Miles to determine where the property line was located.
Miles “established a boundary line through the center of the garage, even though he could easily have identified the location of the boundary monument (to wit: the edge of railroad ties located several feet northerly of the said garage) by taking a five minute trip to the town office, where it is clearly depicted on photographs which are part of the assessment records,” the complaint said.
The day Gabriel Brawn cut the garage in half, Blake Ritter hired his own surveyor, Charles Hildebrant of Dover-Foxcroft, to determine where the boundary line was. He later determined that it was located where the Ritters had said it was.
But Hildebrant had difficulty completing his work because of interference by the Brawns, according to the complaint. Gabriel Brawn allegedly used his truck to block an area where the surveyor needed to work and allegedly had people block his view of the site.
On July 24, the surveyor saw Gabriel Brawn cut down two trees on the Ritter property with a chainsaw, the complaint said. Both trees allegedly contained ingrown pieces of an old wire fence, which the complaint said was evidence of a boundary line. The trees also were the only things that blocked the view of the Ritters’ backyard from the Brawns’ residence.
The case is expected to slowly make its way through Piscataquis County Superior Court in Dover-Foxcroft. The court system has prioritized criminal cases and put most civil matters on hold due to the pandemic.
Bernard Kubetz, the Bangor attorney who represents Wlodkowski and the owners of the television stations, has filed a motion to dismiss his clients from the lawsuit. The attorney argued that the reporter believed he had permission to be on property owned by Gabriel Brawn.
“My clients are not responsible for any harm to the Ritters,” Kubetz, who also represents the Bangor Daily News in legal matters, said Tuesday. “They did not saw the garage in two. Also, there was media coverage of the incident before Mr. Wlodkowski’s broadcast.”
The BDN published a story on the incident on July 18.
Surveyor Miles’ attorney, Brendan O’Rourke of Portland, did not immediately return a request for comment.
Although the Dover-Foxcroft police were aware of the boundary dispute, no charges have been filed over the garage incident.
BDN writer Ernie Clark contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this story had incorrect information about the court that will handle the boundary dispute case.