Thursday, April 17, 2014
Two parents from Falmouth will go on trial Monday in a case that has sparked discussion about teenagers' substance abuse and parents' responsibility.
Barry and Paula Spencer, owners of this house in Falmouth, face charges stemming from a party last year where minors were found drinking and smoking marijuana.
2012 file photo by Gillian Graham/Staff Writer
Barry and Paula Spencer will each face nearly a year in jail and $15,000 in fines if they're convicted on charges stemming from a party last year where minors were found drinking and smoking marijuana.
Attorneys for the Spencers said they plan to argue that the parents took extensive measures to prevent anything illegal but were overwhelmed by uninvited guests.
"This was to be a non-alcohol party, and things spiraled out of control very quickly," said Walter McKee, the attorney for Barry Spencer. "There are multiple witnesses, including the state's witnesses, that will say that when alcohol was found, it was seized and dumped out immediately."
When police broke up the gathering at the home on Fieldstone Drive around midnight on June 16, they found nearly 100 teenagers in the backyard, some of whom were drinking and smoking marijuana. One person, who later received medical attention, was found passed out on a nearby lawn, police said.
Police charged seven young people with alcohol, marijuana and vehicular offenses.
William Childs, who represents Paula Spencer, contends that uninvited teenagers entered the property surreptitiously, concealed alcohol in bags or purses, and spiked drinks that the Spencers believed were non-alcoholic.
He said the charges against the couple -- nine counts each of allowing minors to possess or consume alcohol -- are retaliation by police, who were exasperated when the situation got out of control and at least one teenager did not cooperate with officers.
The state listed more than two dozen potential witnesses, including some minors, but Childs said he suspects that fewer will be called for the trial in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court in Portland.
The defense plans to call six witnesses, all of whom will testify that the Spencers did not allow minors to drink, Childs said.
The party was supposed to celebrate a victory by the Falmouth High School baseball team, which earlier that day won the Class B state championship.
The Spencers' son was captain of the team, and the family planned a dinner and a backyard party, Childs said.
The Falmouth High boys' lacrosse team also won a state championship that day. Around 9 p.m., the parents reluctantly gave their blessing to invite members of the lacrosse team, Childs said.
"The Spencers weren't crazy about hosting both teams," he said.
Childs said Barry Spencer stood guard at the foot of his driveway to ward off young people who brought alcohol. Paula Spencer kept watch over the back of the home from a kitchen area, Childs said.
He said uninvited guests parked their cars on nearby Little Brook Drive and walked along a path through the woods to enter the Spencers' property from behind to avoid Barry Spencer.
"If someone crashes your party, does that mean you're allowing them to drink? I think not," Childs said. "They were on guard, they were telling the kids 'No drinking.' They were seizing the beer when they found it."
The jury trial, expected to last three days, coincides with the unveiling of a draft revision of Falmouth schools' policy on drugs, tobacco, and alcohol.
In discussions leading up to the revision, planners called for a broader approach to address substance abuse by minors. Christopher Murry Jr., who chairs the School Board committee that has led the evaluation process, has said the code should not focus solely on penalizing students, but on finding ways to help them live healthier lives and make better choices.
Among the most controversial proposals is the "knowingly present" clause, which would hold students responsible for illegal activity at a party they attend, even if they don't do anything wrong.
The draft policy, which still requires a vote from the School Board and could change before its final approval, is to be presented at a board workshop at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Falmouth Elementary School.
Analiese Larson, chairwoman of the School Board, declined to comment directly on the Spencers' case.
Asked if she believes it should be a teachable moment for parents, she urged openness.
"It's an unfortunate situation," Larson said. "I hope that all parents are having conversations with one another, and with their children. Our policies are only as good as our parents and the community that support them."
Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at: