Drunken driving comes with a host of potential life-altering consequences – from fines and jail time to injury and death, for both the perpetrators and the victims.

In South Portland, it now comes with public humiliation as well.

South Portland police have started posting the arrest photos of people charged with drunken driving on the department’s Facebook page in an effort to publicize the crime and discourage people from drinking and driving.

Critics, however, say public shaming isn’t law enforcement’s job, and it could jeopardize someone’s right to a fair trial.

Chief Edward Googins said the department is using its social media site to draw attention to a serious crime that can have terrible consequences.

“The possibility of folks getting hurt if they’re not stopped by us is huge,” Googins said. “The bigger issue for us is that when we are out patrolling the streets of the city, we are trying to keep the streets safe for everybody.”

Drunken driving is a high priority for the department, given the potential danger it poses to others, he said. Though the department sometimes also posts information about other criminal arrests, it is focusing on OUI arrests for now.

Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said he knows of no other department that is publishing all its drunken-driving arrests on Facebook.

On Monday morning, the South Portland department’s Facebook page included five mug shots, along with synopses of the arrests, dating to just before 8 p.m. Saturday, when Momenjan Abullayof was allegedly at the wheel of his vehicle and crashed into a utility pole in Willard Square. His 7-year-old child was in the vehicle at the time.

Abullayof was charged with drunken driving and endangering the welfare of a child, police said. Nobody was injured.

The comments on the Facebook page are overwhelmingly in favor of the postings. A minority criticized the new policy and called the posts an inappropriate attempt at public shaming.

Defense attorney Matt Nichols agrees with the minority.

“The idea of deterring bad behavior with public humiliation went away centuries ago with scarlet letters and putting people in the stocks in the public square,” Nichols said. “I don’t think embarrassing people is a legitimate law enforcement function.”

The practice also has the effect of finding someone guilty in the court of public opinion before the courts themselves have weighed in.

“It’s tough laying shame on someone before they’ve actually been convicted of something,” defense attorney Clifford Strike said.

Posting arrestees’ photographs also complicates the judicial process, he said.

“I think it taints a potential jury pool,” he said. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

Legally, the information is public record and news organizations write about arrests and publish photographs of defendants regularly, Nichols said, while noting that in cases that draw media attention, there also are follow-up stories to indicate whether the person was acquitted or if the charges were dismissed. The South Portland Police’s Facebook posts don’t indicate the resolution of any cases.


South Portland police say that is one reason why the drunken-driving arrests were removed from the page by midday Monday. Lt. Frank Clark said the department doesn’t want criminal information posted in perpetuity, because a person’s legal status could change. He said that one post on the department’s Facebook page about a person who was required to register as a sex offender for 10 years remained on the department’s site even after the man was no longer required to register. It has since been removed.

The drunken-driving posts will be left on the site for a few days, then will be taken down, Clark said.

“The level (of evidence needed) to make an arrest is obviously different than to make a conviction. If someone feels they were inappropriately arrested, there’s a mechanism for addressing that,” Googins said. “We think the public needs to know what we’re trying to do. If there is some impact of preventing others from doing it, that’s a good goal.”

Each description of an arrest includes a statement saying the defendant is innocent until found guilty in court.

Googins said the department also publicizes other arrests with mugshots if the circumstances warrant it. Since Jan. 1, the department has made 350 adult arrests, 42 of them for OUIs.

OUI arrests also include those charged with driving under the influence of drugs or medication that would prohibit them from driving.

Googins said the department is posting the information now because it is the prom season and nearing summer, when drunken-driving arrests usually increase.

Clark said the department will likely stop posting OUI arrests eventually, in part because of the time it takes to post and monitor the comments.

Most comments on the department’s Facebook page supported the move, including one by Laurette Burgess Russell, who said she was rear-ended by a drunken driver about 10 years ago at the York toll plaza. A speeding pickup with a plow frame destroyed her car before crashing. The driver’s girlfriend went through the windshield. The man had an open bottle of tequila in the vehicle.

Russell escaped injury, but was haunted by knowing that the gas tank of her Dodge Stratus had been pushed into the back seat of her car, where her then-3-year-old son would have been sitting if he had been in the car. She thinks publishing drunken drivers’ pictures is fine.

“If it maybe makes someone think about not drinking and driving and maybe deters them … then why not?” she said. “It’s public record anyway.”

A handful of other departments in Maine and around the country also have used social media to publicize arrests.

Westbrook police post a weekly summary of all arrests, with mugshots, on the department Facebook page that has become a popular feature.

The Bedford, Virginia, Police Department posted drunken-driving arrests at one time. Chief F. Todd Foreman said the practice started and ended under a previous police chief and he has not resumed it because his department is understaffed and needs the resources elsewhere.

The organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving said it does not take a position on whether departments should post drunken-driving arrests, but cited statistics showing that 42 fatal crashes in Maine in 2013 involved drunken driving, or 29 percent of all traffic deaths.

“MADD supports law enforcement efforts to protect the public from the dangerous – and often deadly – consequences of drunk driving,” Jamie Fisher, MADD field relations director for the Northeast region said in a written statement. “Drunk driving is a violent crime that is 100 percent preventable.”

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