A Waterboro man has filed a lawsuit claiming he was unlawfully arrested and strip-searched last year by York County law enforcement officers.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine is representing Caleb Gaul, who was arrested in January 2018 after an incident with a school bus driver outside his home. Court documents state a York County sheriff’s deputy arrested him on a misdemeanor charge of obstructing government administration, but the prosecutor dismissed the case within two months.

Gaul filed his lawsuit Wednesday in York County Superior Court. The complaint names as defendants the county, Sheriff Bill King and his office, the arresting deputy and two unnamed jail officers. He seeks unspecified damages, as well as a declaration that his arrest and search violated Maine’s constitution.

“I was humiliated, my wife and children were terrified, and my future employment was jeopardized – all because I tried to get an illegally parked bus off my private property,” Gaul said in a statement issued by the ACLU of Maine. “I don’t understand why anyone thinks this is a good use of law enforcement or taxpayer resources, and I hope the sheriff’s department will think twice before trying to make an example out of someone else.”

Emma Bond, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Maine, said the officer escalated the encounter in an unnecessary way.

“These sorts of unnecessary arrests damage lives, waste resources, and serve no good purpose,” Bond said. “It’s time to end this misuse of our justice system and stop filling our jails with people who don’t need to be there.”

King did not respond to voicemails at his office or on his cellphone. Late Wednesday night he acknowledged a public records request and said his office would begin researching documents related to the arrest and his office’s policies on strip-searches. Bond said the defendants did not respond to a notice of claims last year and have not yet responded to the lawsuit. She provided the Portland Press Herald with a copy of the police report from the arrest.

The complaint describes the arrest on Jan. 30, 2018. It states Gaul lives at the end of a long private road in Waterboro, and that morning he drove down the path to clear snow so his wife could drive their young children to school. A school bus was parked at the end of the road, although there were no students on board yet. The complaint states Gaul asked the school bus driver to move off private property and out of the way of the road. The driver did not move, according to the complaint, and Gaul parked his truck in front of the bus. He then walked up the road to talk to his wife.

The complaint states the bus driver called his supervisor, who called the sheriff’s office. Gaul moved his truck when the sheriff’s deputy arrived, but he was arrested and taken to the York County Jail. He says two guards subjected him to an strip-search upon arrival, which his attorneys say violated a 2005 class-action settlement agreement concerning the jail. The complaint describes that search as “invasive” and “humiliating.” He stayed at the jail for five hours and paid more than $300 toward bail and fees.

“This arrest – which the officer knew would result in a multi-hour incarceration, humiliating strip search, and long-term employment consequences – was undertaken for no legitimate public interest and in violation of state statutory law. Mr. Gaul posed no public-safety or flight risk that could justify subjecting him to an invasive, humiliating, and costly custodial arrest,” the complaint states. “Any legitimate interest in charging Mr. Gaul could have been equally satisfied by issuing a summons for Mr. Gaul to appear in court.”

Neither the complaint nor the police report indicates that Gaul used violence or threatened anyone during the encounter. The police report includes witnesses – the bus driver and a bus monitor – who described Gaul as agitated. Deputy Joshua Morneau said Gaul was uncooperative with the arrest and booking process.

“I asked Caleb why he blockaded the bus and what end result he was hoping for,” Morneau wrote in his narrative. “Caleb told me he was not going to move his vehicle until the bus driver apologized to him.”

The complaint states the charge against him was ultimately dismissed March 27, 2018, on the day of his first court hearing. A clerk at York County Superior Court confirmed the case is closed but could not say more because it is now sealed.

Gaul, who was 36 at the time of the arrest, works as an audio and technical engineer. The complaint states he has government and military clients that require background checks, and because of his arrest, his employer put him on probation for one year.

“As a result of the wrongful arrest, Mr. Gaul is unlikely to be successful in gaining a high-level or top-secret security clearance, limiting his long-term earnings and overall success in his career,” the complaint states.

The defendants will next file a response to the complaint.


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