Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Fairfield’s former police chief has pleaded not guilty to a charge of operating under the influence on Dec. 24, 2012, the same day that 15 law enforcement officers descended on the street where he lives in response to an unspecified disturbance.
The charge against John Emery, who went on an extended leave of absence two days after the incident and who resigned for personal reasons in March, is scheduled to be the subject of dispositional court hearing next Wednesday.
In the incident’s aftermath, police refused to comment on whether Emery’s absence was linked to the events on Skowhegan’s Palmer Road, where Emery lives.
Citing the case as part of an ongoing investigation, authorities from several agencies on Wednesday refused to release police reports about the incident and would not say how the drunken-driving charge relates to the Palmer Road response.
At the time, law enforcement officers from three agencies, including high-ranking officials such as then-Skowhegan police Chief Michael Emmons and Somerset County Sheriff’s Deputy Chief Dale Lancaster, responded to a call that was initially reported as a “mental subject,” a police radio term for someone who is acting strangely or irrationally.
Skowhegan District Court documents now show that Emery, who had 26 years on the police force, ultimately was charged with driving under the influence Dec. 24.
Emery did not respond to a phone message left at his home Wednesday.
David Sanders, a Livermore Falls attorney who has been vice chairman of Maine’s Board of the Overseers of the Bar, said that while he has no specific knowledge of the Emery case, at first glance it does raise questions about possible favoritism, and the circumstances seem “kind of odd.”
“The question is, if he wasn’t police chief, would the charge have just been an OUI?” Sanders said.
Fairfield’s police incident log shows the Palmer Road call about a mental subject came in at 2:49 p.m.
Skowhegan police Deputy Chief Dan Summers would not say Wednesday how the drunken-driving charge against Emery relates to the police presence at Emery’s home that day. Summers referred all questions about the case to the district attorney’s office.
Joelle Pratt, the assistant district attorney handling Emery’s case, said Wednesday she would not discuss details of the charges other than to say that Emery’s status as a former police chief would not cause him to be treated differently.
The Morning Sentinel submitted a Freedom of Access Act request late Tuesday for police reports relating to the charge against Emery but did not receive an immediate response.
According to the criminal court complaint filed by Skowhegan police Officer Josh King, Emery “did operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicants, or while having an alcohol level of .08 grams or more of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood or 210 liters of breath.” Operating under the influence is a class D crime, which carries a maximum penalty of 364 days in prison and a $2,000 fine.
Court records show that Emery’s lawyer, Walter McKee, filed a not guilty plea May 7 on his client’s behalf.
Sanders, the Livermore Falls attorney, said the decision to bring that charge against Emery might have been legitimate, but that it was impossible to say without knowing the details of what happened.
William Stokes, chief of the criminal division at the Maine Office of the Attorney General, said Wednesday he has supervised the case against Emery personally and that the charges are appropriate. Stokes said he reviewed police reports associated with Emery’s case in February and that he generated his own report that included possible charges that could be brought against Emery.
Pratt considered the report as she decided what charges would be likely to hold up in court.
“You don’t want to charge someone if you don’t have a substantial likelihood that you’re going to prevail,” Stokes said.
Pratt said she did not anticipate any other charges being filed related to this case.
Stokes said he has reviewed Pratt’s decision, and he supports it.
“I trust her judgment,” he said, adding that he will continue to monitor the case to review any possible plea deals or other prosecutorial decisions.
Stokes said the attorney general’s office is called upon to review criminal cases involving people who have some sort of relationship with the prosecuting district attorney — in this case, someone who was then a police chief. Generally, he said, no actual conflict of interest is present, but the attorney general’s office gets involved to blunt the perception that such a conflict could exist.
“They’re really not conflicts so much as they’re uncomfortable,” he said. “It’s not like you’re prosecuting your mother.”
The dispositional court conference originally was scheduled for Wednesday, but McKee asked that it be postponed a week for additional time to review documents related to the case “and conduct a necessary follow-up investigation.”
McKee said Wednesday that he was still reviewing the police reports, which he had received earlier this month.
The case against the former police chief will be treated the same as any other, he said.
“I am highly confident that he’ll be treated no worse, or no better, than anyone else before the courts,” he said.
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287