The Motor Supply Co. and Meineke Car Care Center parking lot on June 8 on State Street in Augusta. Cars of Black Lives Matter protestors were towed from that lot while they were at that event Sunday, Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — City Police Chief Jared Mills said an investigation into the towing of vehicles from a private lot following a Black Lives Matter protest showed police didn’t plan for their removal.

But he acknowledged the department could have been better prepared for the large event that “overwhelmed” officers.

That was the conclusion of a memo released Tuesday, based on an internal investigation of the Augusta Police Department’s role in a number of vehicles being towed after a peaceful protest on June 7.

Controversy started after a widely-shared Facebook post accused city police of directing vehicles into a parking lot near Meineke Car Care Center at 268 State St. and later having them towed. Department officials denied the claims, stating that officers recommended to the lot’s owner the vehicles not be towed, and that their policies prohibit them from authorizing the use of privately-owned parking lots.

The Kennebec Journal reported that KDT Towing towed six vehicles and Mike’s Towing towed nine vehicles from the property, both saying  the lot’s owner requested their services. More than 1,000 people took part in a peaceful protest against racism and police brutality near the State House on June 7.

The Facebook post, written by Amanda Brown, was later edited to clarify that she later found out it was the business owner that requested the cars be towed, not Augusta police.

The Tuesday memo written by Mills, based on an internal investigation by Sgt. Scott Harris, states that “there was not a nefarious plan” by Augusta Police Department staff to direct people into the Meineke lot to be towed.

“We know this based in part from the statements of the tow truck drivers,” the memo states, “along with the apology our department received from the owner of Meineke after realizing the negative publicity he created for our department by having the vehicles towed after we asked him to refrain.”

Mills said in the memo that the department “could have taken steps to avoid this situation during the planning phase of the event.”

He said a message board will be utilized to direct traffic and police will coordinate parking instructions with the organizers for future events.

Mills’s memo said the protest was larger than anticipated and officers were “overwhelmed” while they were directing traffic. Mills said Wednesday that an extra police officer stationed at the intersection of Water and Glenwood streets could have eased the pressure on the officers stationed there.

“We’ve just never really run into this before,” he said of people parking in the Meineke lot. “We couldn’t tell them not to park there, (but) they felt the officers were insinuating it was OK to park there. We can’t have that again.”

Mills said the aforementioned intersection is usually shut down for other events around the state capitol, but parking usually never overflows into the Meineke lot. He said, due to complaints from those who had their cars towed, the department would have to adjust their procedures to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Mills said Wednesday that multiple private lots were inundated with vehicles of protestors, including the lot in front of the vacant K-Mart on Western Avenue. He said city officials may look into having property owners add “no parking” signs to their lots.

“There would be just no way for us to be able to police every one of those (parking lots),” Mills said. “If this is happening, you want to make sure you make it clear you don’t want people in the parking lots.”

Brown, when showed a copy of the memo Wednesday, said she hoped there is not a similar issue in the future.

“I appreciate (them) looking into the situation, and I’m glad they have taken responsibility for their lack of clear communication between officers and citizens,” she said. “I do hope that their new set of guidelines will be followed in the future, so that this does not become an issue again.”

Augusta Mayor Dave Rollins said the memo shows that what actually happened with the towing was “completely the opposite of what the original perception was.”

“I hope that the people will read this and absorb it and be aware that the Augusta Police Department acted appropriately,” he said. “This thing took off like wildfire on social media before anybody could get an understanding of what happened.”

Rollins said he didn’t think the people parking in the lot were “unreasonable” to park there, and he said the department learned lessons from the incident.

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