Friday, March 7, 2014
One of the two parents from Falmouth who were accused of allowing dozens of teenagers to drink during a celebration at their home said Thursday that authorities unfairly vilified them during the investigation and trial, and that the rigorous prosecution was motivated in part by the couple's wealth.
Paula and Barry Spencer at their Falmouth home on Wednesday, June 13, 2013.
Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer
Barry and Paula Spencer's home.
Staff File Photo
"It caused people in the community to kind of point their fingers and say, 'They are the stereotypical affluent family who have abundance and let their children run amok,' " said Paula Spencer. "If we lived in a trailer park and didn't have a cent to our name, it would not stir up that kind of anger and resentment."
Spencer spoke to the Portland Press Herald a year after the party at her home made headlines, and a day before the Spencers' case will be featured on national television.
Paula and Barry Spencer, both 53, were tried in February but not convicted. The jury deadlocked over whether they intended to allow the students to drink at their home during a celebration of two winning Falmouth High School sports teams.
The couple's lawyers and Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson reached an agreement that called for each one to do 100 hours of community service, pay restitution and write a public letter of apology.
On Thursday, Paula Spencer accepted some responsibility for the incident, but said she and her husband are owed an apology for the way police handled the situation.
Barry Spencer, a software entrepreneur whose video conferencing technology was purchased by a California company, works from the couple's picturesque home on Fieldstone Lane.
Anderson described the house as a well-appointed hangout for the Spencers' sons and their friends. At trial, the jury heard about the home's basement game room, the in-ground pool, the patio and the fire pit.
Falmouth Police Chief Edward Tolan rebuffed Paula Spencer's allegations Thursday and defended his officers' actions as professional and fair during the routine party bust.
"This was not something that was a unique situation," Tolan said. "We've moved on."
Anderson said Thursday that she believes the parents willingly turned a blind eye as the celebration got out of control. Long after the trial, she said, the family is trying to redirect the blame.
"Paula still thinks it's everyone's fault but hers," Anderson said. "(Prosecution of underage drinking) didn't start with the Spencers and it didn't start in Falmouth and it has nothing to do with how nice a house they have. Would I have done the same thing in a trailer park? Absolutely."
The TV news magazine "20/20" is scheduled to air a story about the case, in which the Spencers are expected to describe in fuller detail their account of what led to the charges on June 16, 2012, when police said they found as many as 100 teenagers partying at the home. The program will air on ABC at 10 p.m. Friday.
Spencer, who had declined past interview requests, said the event has made her a stronger person, if not less trusting.
"We agreed that we admitted our mistakes that night. We didn't act fast enough. We should have asked for help sooner," said Paula Spencer. "We were not criminals that night. We were parents trying to do our best. Mistakes were made on everyone's part. Mistakes were made by the children, too. They brought alcohol."
The celebration was to honor their oldest son's baseball team, which won the state championship earlier in the day. The party grew when members of the Falmouth High lacrosse team, which also won a state title, joined in.
The Spencers' case is a stark example of the choices many parents face during prom and graduation season, when teenagers on the verge of adulthood look to celebrate their coming of age, legally or otherwise.
Anderson said the Spencers epitomize a segment of parents who seek their children's friendship rather than their respect. Simply taking a teenager's car keys doesn't mean that allowing them to drink is safe, she said.
Anderson said two-thirds of teenage fatalities don't occur in a car, and intoxication is the common denominator in many situations that spiral out of control.
She cited research that shows children who drink at early ages are more likely to become alcohol abusers later in life.
"What I see over and over again are the ravages of substance abuse, and it all starts with alcohol," Anderson said.
"I see an awful lot of people here every single day that would rather drink than do anything else. They put the alcohol before everything else, and they commit a ton of crimes," she said. "So is this a crusade? Yea."
Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:
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Paula and Barry Spencer at their Falmouth home on Wednesday, June 13, 2013. The Spencers, who were prosecuted for allowing teens to drink at a party that took place exactly a year ago this weekend, will be on 20/20 on Thursday, speaking as a cautionary tale for others around graduation time.
Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer