SKOWHEGAN — A new criminal charge of robbery was added Monday against a Skowhegan man accused of stealing drugs from a Rite Aid pharmacy on Madison Avenue in Skowhegan on Jan. 9.

Damien Towers, 26, made his initial court appearance via video conference Monday before District Court Judge Valerie Stanfill. He is charged with stealing drugs and with possession of drugs, both Class C felonies punishable by up to five years in prison. The new charge of robbery is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Noting that Towers had turned himself in and that his prior record is a few years old, Stanfill agreed and released him on his own recognizance, providing he immediately sought help through the Somerset County Community Corrections program.

Nicole Fournier, who is the mother of a child with Towers, and Towers’ sister Shawna Towers were elated Monday in the parking lot after they watched the court hearing, knowing that Towers was to be released and could get the help he needs to stay off drugs.

“He’s a very good man,” Fournier, 27, said. “He just got into doing drugs and he made a really bad mistake. This ain’t him — he’s the most amazing father. He’s the most amazing person around.”

Towers’ court-appointed lawyer for the day, Philip Mohlar, also cast the robbery as the result of his client’s “substance abuse issue.” He said Towers’ alleged robbery wasn’t premeditated, but rather a spur-of-the-moment decision.

“This is drug-seeking behavior, not threatening, violent behavior,” Mohlar said.

Towers told the judge that he had been “clean” from drugs for 2 1/2 weeks prior to him handing a note to a pharmacist Jan. 9. The note stated, “Bottle of Perk Thirtys NOW,” according to court documents.

The reference was to the drug Percocet, which is manufactured in 30 mg doses. Percocet contains a combination of acetaminophen and oxycodone, an opioid pain medication. Acetaminophen is a less potent pain reliever that increases the effects of oxycodone.

The Skowhegan incident was the first pharmacy robbery of 2017, according to Maine State Police, who also say the overall number of pharmacy robberies has dropped substantially over the past few years — five total last year compared with more than 50 four years ago.

Mohlar told the judge Monday that Towers needs drug counseling, not jail time if bail was set too high. Mohlar said there was no weapon used and no threats made. Towers himself told the judge he would write a letter of apology to the pharmacist.

Towers was arrested in 2010 and charged with theft. He was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison with all but 60 days suspended and two years probation and ordered to pay $2,550 in restitution.

Towers was not asked to enter a plea on the recent charges Monday.

The Somerset County Community Corrections Program is a post-conviction and pre-trial home release service allowed by a judge. Those in the program must check in twice weekly in person and check in by telephone every night and can be tested at random for drugs. If the contract they make to enter the program is violated, it is revoked and the person is subject to arrest and jail time.

Shawna Towers, 29, said the courts took his son in November and that her brother has gone downhill ever since.

“He’s changed now,” she said. “After they took the baby from him, after they took his son, he changed.”

Fournier agreed, noting that she and Damien Towers have had problems and that their 16-month-old child currently is in foster care. They both have visitation rights, she said, and in time may get back together as a family. There are four other children from previous relationships.

The women said that Towers’ release on personal recognizance is an important step toward recovery.

Personal recognizance means he was released without bail on the promise to return to court and to enroll in substance abuse counseling and to abide by the rules of the county corrections program.

Towers, who had been on the run ever since the Jan. 9 robbery, turned himself in Friday night at Somerset County Jail in East Madison, police said.

According to a police affidavit for an arrest warrant for Towers, he entered the pharmacy just after 10 a.m. Jan. 9 wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and winter gloves. He then allegedly passed a hand-written piece of ripped notebook paper to the pharmacist, who promptly gave him a bottle of Oxycodone 30 mg tablets.

Surveillance photos of the incident were distributed among local law enforcement agencies, and several officers and state troopers recognized Towers, according to the court document. Information and a photo were posted to the Skowhegan Police Department Facebook page.

More than 40 area residents identified Towers and told police. The information led police to a home on Russell Road in Skowhegan, where informants said Towers and others lived with the doors and windows covered in blankets to hide alleged drug use.

A police affidavit filed in court and written by Skowhegan police Detective Katelyn Nichols goes on to state that a police officer spotted Towers inside the Russell Road home and that he may have escaped police custody covered in a heap of clothing in a pickup truck driven by a friend.

Nichols created a photo line up from jail booking photos for the pharmacist to look at, and it took him “a few seconds” to identify Towers as the one who had slipped him the note.

A dispositional conference with a judge is set for March 1.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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