Workplace behavior will be in the spotlight next week when the vice chairwoman of the Buxton Board of Selectmen goes on trial on an assault charge.

Jean Harmon is accused of assaulting Gregory Heffernan, the town’s solid waste manager. Harmon, however, says that the two were “Gibbs cuffing” — a trademark slap given by “NCIS” character Leroy Jethro Gibbs to members of his team on the hit television show. Harmon said that the “Gibbs cuff” is a playful exchange that she and Heffernan have engaged in for the last eight years.

Jean Harmon

Harmon said she and Heffernan had a friendly, working relationship for 15 years, and that occasionally during the last eight, Heffernan would take off his hat, bow his head and Harmon would “Gibbs cuff” him.

Michael Ayotte, Harmon’s attorney, said Heffernan never asked the defendant to stop “Gibbs cuffing” him nor did Heffernan indicate that the action bothered him.

According to court documents, Heffernan pressed charges against Harmon in October 2018 after the two had a disagreement about a policy and Harmon gave Heffernan a “Gibbs cuff.” Heffernan immediately went to the Police Department.

Harmon has pleaded not guilty to the class D assault. Calls to Shiela Nevelles, assistant district attorney for York County who is prosecuting the case, were not returned.

 

Ayotte said the 15-year working relationship in which Harmon often “Gibbs cuffed” Heffernan is grounds for a de minimis  dismissal of the charges. If Harmon is found guilty of assault during her trial next week, a judge will determine whether a de minimis hearing is appropriate, Ayotte said.

According to Maine criminal law, dismissal of charges based on de minimis conduct occurs when the action is not “expressly refused by the person whose interest was infringed” and is not consistent with the purpose of the law defining the crime. The law also states that a charge can be ruled de minimis when a situation cannot be predicted by the Legislature when defining the crime.

Ayotte argues that because Heffernan had not complained previously about Harmon’s conduct, and because the popular cultural reference between the two colleagues could not be predicted, Harmon’s charges would be grounds for a de minimis hearing if she is found guilty.

Assault is a class D crime and is punishable by up to 364 days incarceration and a $2,000 fine.

Harmon has not stepped down from her position as selectwoman, which she has held since 2003. Although her current term ends in 2020, Buxton’s town charter states that selectmen must forfeit their seat if convicted for “a crime or offense punishable by a term of imprisonment for more than six months.”

The trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday at York County Superior court in Alfred.


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