CLINTON — Police Chief Craig Johnson was sore and limping today as he walked into a church service aimed at recognizing police and other first responders.

Johnson said he had been kicked, punched and head-butted by a 14-year-old Friday after Johnson went to the boy’s home in response to a report about an out-of-control juvenile.

“I went to ask him to step outside, and that instantly escalated,” Johnson said before entering the 2 p.m. service at Brown Memorial United Methodist Church. “I was getting punched several times in the face, and I got head-butted, and I got kicked in the shin. Subsequently, I deployed pepper spray and was able to get him into handcuffs with assistance from a family friend that was there.”

Johnson arrested the boy and charged him with class C felony assault on an officer; the chief then drove himself to a Waterville hospital, where he spent nearly four hours getting X-rayed and receiving treatment for “deep abrasions” to his left leg and a cut and bruise to his forehead, he said.

Johnson said Friday’s incident is a good example of why a police department is needed in the town of about 3,600 people. The boy’s family could have been injured, he said.

“Response time can be everything,” Johnson said. “Yes, I got assaulted. It’s not the first time. Maybe it’s strange (to say), but better me than a family member.”

Residents at a special town meeting Tuesday will consider approving a 2013-14 police budget for the town. They are scheduled to vote by secret ballot from noon to 7 p.m. in the banquet hall at the Town Office. Johnson said the proposed budget is more than $197,000.

Voters in June rejected the police budget. At recent public hearings, some residents said if the department is dissolved, other law enforcement agencies would be spread thin.

Also, there could be a delay in response time to calls from people in Clinton because the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office and state police would have to prioritize calls and travel a longer distance to Clinton.

Some Clinton residents at public hearings complained of being treated poorly by police officers in the past, but Johnson has said informal complaints have been against officers who are no longer with the department.

Today’s church service was organized by neighborhood crime watch coordinator Ruth Mattson and church member Cindy Lowell. Mattson billed the event earlier in the week as a “blessing of the local police officers and a social to follow.”

The church’s pastor, Judith Gould, said the event was not intended to be about supporting the police budget, as she does not think the church should be involved in such matters. However, she added that she believes first responders’ efforts should be supported.

About 35 people attended the service, including Johnson’s family; police officers Michael Ellis, Charles Theobold and Karl Roy; and Town Manager Warren Hatch.

They said prayers, sang “Amazing Grace” and “America the Beautiful,” and heard stories from Gould about her experiences over the years working with first responders in her capacity as a pastor and hospital chaplain.

She said today’s service was intended to recognize not only police, but also firefighters, emergency medical technicians, Red Cross volunteers and others, including everyday people.

“Any time you see an accident and stop to help, you are a first responder,” she said.

She spoke of the critical role first responders play in a town.

“We need to have first responders in our community,” she said.

Gould noted that no firefighters were present today because they were attending a firefighter’s wedding.

The first four rows in the center of the church were reserved for police officers and their families. Paper stars with “Police Department” on them were attached to the pews to indicate they were reserved.

Limping to the altar, Johnson said he has been a Clinton police officer six years, three as chief, and  in law enforcement 25 years. Johnson, whose father, Larry, was in law enforcement 45 years, and his mother, Maxine, who was a Waterville police dispatcher 28 years, set an example for him when he was young, he said. His parents were present today.

“I saw the good they were doing for the people, and I knew what I wanted to do for a career,” he said. “It’s all about serving people.”

At a reception after the service, the group sang “Happy Birthday to You” to him. He will turn 45 on Aug. 21.

Longtime church member Marie Webb said the event was an important one for the community and that the police department should remain in town.

“It’s a must,” she said.

Mattson, the neighborhood watch coordinator, said the service was not meant to help boost voter support for the police budget; but she acknowledged she is a “huge supporter” of the department.

“Truthfully, I don’t think the residents realize to what point this town faces crime,” she said.

Johnson said earlier that the police department responds to more than 3,000 calls a year from people reporting domestic-violence crimes, assault, disorderly conduct, fights, protection order violations and other matters.

Amy Calder — 861-9247
[email protected]

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