Thursday, December 12, 2013
WATERVILLE — A sergeant with the Waterville Police Department was disciplined internally following a validated complaint from a homeless man that the police officer had mistreated him.
The homeless man, Brian Charette, 33, submitted a signed statement to police May 11 saying that Sgt. Brian Gardiner had called him a "mental retard." Gardiner also "threatened to use force against me close enough to get sprayed by his spittal," the statement said.
Charette received a letter from Deputy Chief Charles Rumsey on June 15 saying a department investigation concluded "the allegation you made against Sgt. Gardiner was substantiated, meaning that Sgt. Gardiner committed all or part of the alleged conduct. This matter has been handled internally according to the Waterville Police Department's policy on employee discipline."
The letter apologized that "one or more of our officers fell short of the mark of professionalism that we all strive for."
Charette said he is not satisfied with the response.
"I just feel like if it was me doing that to him, it would have been assault," he said.
Chief Joseph Massey said Wednesday his department cannot comment further on the incident because it is a personnel matter and was handled internally. Massey would not say how Gardiner was disciplined.
City Manager Mike Roy said he was unaware of the incident and would not be able to comment further.
Charette said the incident began around 9:15 p.m. May 11 when he was visiting a friend on Labbe Street in Waterville.
He said he was told someone was trying to take his dog out of his car. When he went outside, he said, three Waterville police officers were there.
Charette, who has an extensive criminal record that includes a conviction for criminal threatening involving a police standoff in 2010, told the officers that he was free on bail. He said in a phone interview that the officers "swarmed me" and Gardiner called him names, including "mental retard," used profanity and threatened him.
Charette said he thinks police are discriminating against him because of his prior arrests.
"It's hard to get housing and move on when people keep bringing this stuff up," Charette said, referring to his criminal record.
Charette, who said he suffers from a stress disorder, said he feels unsafe and has lost sleep since the incident.
He was arrested and charged with criminal attempt July 5 for allegedly encouraging his dogs to bite an officer, but that charge has since been dropped. Massey said the charge probably was dismissed because of the difficulty involved in to proving a crime occurred, given that the dogs did not actually bite the officer.
While Massey said he could not comment on the specific incident involving Charette, he said the department has received about five complaints in the past year, mostly about alleged rudeness from police officers.
He said the department takes every complaint seriously.
"Sometimes that's the way to identify the officer who does have some issues out there," Massey said. "We want to make sure we continue to operate with integrity. If people feel like they can't be treated fairly, we lose our reputation fairly quickly."
He described Gardiner as a "pretty professional guy" who, like most officers who have served with the department for a substantial amount of time, has had complaints made against him.
Massey said he is concerned mostly about determining whether any particilar officer shows a pattern of rudeness so the department can solve the problem.
"The reality is they are dealing with people who are intoxicated, people who are in emotional states and people who are very aggressive. It's just difficult to be 100 percent professional every time, but we do expect our officers to hold themselves to that higher standard," Massey said.
Gardiner was promoted to patrol sergeant Jan. 21. Before coming to Waterville in 2005, he was a patrol officer with the Skowhegan Police Department. He is the department's emergency vehicle operation course instructor, as well as a department training officer.
Kaitlin Schroeder -- 861-9252