WINTHROP — Police Chief Joseph Young defended the statewide arrest powers granted to his officers, and the Town Council left the policy in place and intact on Monday.

Councilors Sarah Fuller and Larry Fitzgerald had requested a review of the town’s statewide-arrest policy after receiving questions from constituents about the Winthrop Police Department’s jurisdiction.

The questions came following a Kennebec Journal investigation into a sting operation Young conducted in Gardiner in August to retrieve stolen golf clubs for the son of Winthrop’s town attorney. The operation concluded with Young pointing his gun at an innocent man.

But Young told Councilor Ken Buck the statewide-arrest policy had nothing to do with that operation.

“I was facilitating the recovery of stolen property,” Young said. “This was not Winthrop’s case, this was clearly Gardiner’s case. That’s why Gardiner was included in on the whole thing. I had no intention of arresting anybody.”

State law protects municipalities on liability, worker’s compensation and other insurance coverages if something happens when an officer makes an arrest elsewhere in the state.

Accompanying Young at the regular council meeting was Jerry Hinton, a consultant and former police chief in Brunswick, Monmouth, Richmond and Sabattus. Hinton said he asked a legislator to introduce the statewide-arrest law in 2003 after encountering a probable drunken driver on the way back from training in Fort Fairfield.

Hinton said he was traveling in a police cruiser with two other chiefs, but all they could do was call local law enforcement and hope the driver did not run off the road or hit another car before someone with jurisdiction arrived.

About 30 municipal police departments have statewide arrest powers, according to the chiefs association, out of 122 departments in the state.

Young and Hinton said they have both monitored the law closely since passage and know of no problems that have arisen because of it.

“I can assure you, there have been no abuses of this law for the past 10 years that it’s been in effect,” Young said. “Not only just in Winthrop but statewide, there have been no reported abuses.”

After the discussion at Monday’s meeting, Fuller and Fitzgerald said they had a better grasp of how the policy is used and the protections it provides, and they were comfortable leaving the town policy in place.

Some residents spoke in favor of the statewide-arrest policy. Andy Wess said that if Winthrop officers want occasional help from other agencies, they shouldn’t limit themselves strictly to town boundaries.

Betsy Rowe said the policy is a good idea, as long as Winthrop officers “know where to draw the line” on what is or is not worth pursuing.

Young said he makes the decision about whether his officers will work outside Winthrop in a given situation and they inform the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction in advance when possible.

“Is there potential for abuse?” one woman in the audience asked.

“There would be if I weren’t the one making the decisions,” Young told her.

“That’s questionable,” the woman said.

“It isn’t questionable,” Young said. “It depends on what you read and whether or not you believe what you read.”

The August sting operation in Gardiner was part of an effort to recover a set of golf clubs stolen from Ross Bragg, a Manchester resident and son of Winthrop town attorney Lee Bragg. The clubs were stolen from Ross Bragg’s car while it was parked at the Sunday River ski resort in Oxford County.

Ross Bragg found his clubs listed on the online classified ad site Craigslist. Bragg set up a meeting at the Hannaford supermarket in Gardiner with the person selling the clubs.

Young accompanied Bragg, dressed in plain clothes and posing as Bragg’s father. Two Gardiner officers were called to question the suspect.

After Bragg identified the clubs as his, Young ordered the seller, Joel Coon, of Dresden, to the ground. Coon, who says he was frozen with confusion, did not comply until Young pulled out his gun and pointed it at him.

The two Gardiner officers who had been watching moved in and questioned Coon, who was released when he explained that his brother had bought the golf clubs at a pawn shop. He later provided a receipt and was cleared of wrongdoing.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
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