FARMINGTON — Selectmen on Tuesday rejected a request to dedicate a memorial bench in a town-owned park to Justin Crowley-Smilek, a 28-year-old U.S. Army veteran who was shot and killed by a Farmington police officer last year.

During the selectmen’s meeting, Michael Smilek, the deceased veteran’s father and a town resident, presented the request on behalf of his son’s mother, who lives in Portland, Ore.

The issue raised lengthy discussion about Crowley-Smilek suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the circumstances of his death and how veterans should be honored in their communities.

Smilek told selectmen his son and all veterans deserve to have their military service acknowledged, calling the memorial bench a simple gesture that many other communities encourage.

The 55-year-old father said society has mistreated veterans struggling with the psychological scars of war, a problem that his son faced when he returned home to Farmington.

“My son, Justin, just like untold numbers of other veterans, brought the war home to us. It is a picture that we do not want to see; a picture that we would rather forget,” Smilek said.

He described the memorial bench as a way to honor all veterans who call Farmington home, to show society has not forgotten those veterans who struggle to readjust after leaving the battlefield.

Selectmen said they denied the request based on comments they received from many residents who opposed the memorial bench because it broke with longstanding precedents tied to the existing veterans’ monuments at Meetinghouse Park, the proposed site in downtown Farmington.

Because other memorials in the park recognize in a general sense all veterans who served in specific military conflicts, other than a World War II monument that lists individual names, selectmen said their biggest concern was setting a precedent of acknowledging a single veteran at the site.

Smilek responded that the town should have more up-to-date memorials, such as the bench, for those veterans returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Selectmen said the memorials in the park have few references to military conflicts since Vietnam.

Crowley-Smilek, a U.S. Army Ranger, served four months in Afghanistan before his discharge under honorable conditions in June 2007.

Selectmen suggested Smilek and other family members return to the board with other proposals for a memorial, suggesting different dedications to all veterans in the more recent conflicts. They also told them to reach out to local veterans’ groups to look at alternative sites and tributes.

Selectman Dennis Pike differed from the other four selectmen when he gave another reason for his opposition to the memorial bench. Pike, who is also the Franklin County sheriff, told the father the park is an inappropriate site because of the circumstances tied to Crowley-Smilek’s death.

A town police officer shot and killed Crowley-Smilek in front of the Farmington municipal building. Police said Crowley-Smilek had a knife and threatened to kill the officer, Ryan Rosie. The state attorney general’s office has yet to release the findings of its investigation of the incident.

Pike said Crowley-Smilek put the police officer in a situation that resulted in the shooting, making the town-owned property an inappropriate venue for the memorial.

Smilek said that the details of the case have not been released yet. He said the information made public so far does not tell the whole story of what happened the morning of Nov. 19 when his son died.

Selectman Jessica Berry also told Smilek she has heard from residents who have concerns about his son’s actions outside of his military service. All five selectmen expressed sympathy to the family and friends and a desire to work with them to find a fitting tribute.

Smilek repsonded Wednesday to the selectmen’s rejection, saying it was a difficult to address the many perspectives involved.

“The (request) that was brought up was a very controversial one within the town because it deals with a veteran, it deals with a police officer and it deals with an ongoing investigation,” he said.

But Smilek believes the only issue that should matter is the sacrifice his son made for his country.

“In my opinion, it shouldn’t be an issue of anything other than that he is a veteran. And if you want to address the issue of veterans with PTSD, are you going to just discard him as a veteran?” Smilek said.

Smilek-Crowley’s mother, Ruth Crowley, 58, made the offer to donate the memorial bench to the town. She spoke Wednesday from her Oregon home and said that she was awaiting more details about the selectmen’s decision before addressing specific claims.

“I just wanted to remember Justin and the fact that he was a soldier who came back to this small town,” she said.

“I plan on moving back to Maine, and I would love to have a place to go to and think about my son.”

David Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.