SKOWHEGAN — A police detective sergeant has pleaded guilty to assaulting his ex-wife, avoiding an upcoming trial and placing his future in law enforcement in doubt.

Detective Sgt. Don E. Avery, 37, entered a guilty plea on a misdemeanor charge of assault last month ahead of his trial date, which had been scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday of this week. A second charge of domestic violence assault was dismissed in exchange for the plea.

Avery, who now lives in North Anson, was charged with intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury or offensive physical contact to his ex-wife in June 2018 in Madison, according to court documents in Skowhegan.

An investigator with the attorney general’s office conducted several interviews, as did an official with the Maine State Police.

Avery was arrested Sept. 6, 2018, and booked at the Somerset County Jail. He later was released on personal recognizance bail, which is a written promise signed by the defendant to show up for future court appearances and not engage in illegal activity while on release.

He previously had pleaded not guilty.

District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said this week that Avery’s case has been placed on deferred disposition for one year, which will result in a conviction on the class D misdemeanor assault charge and a mandatory $300 fine if he is successful in not getting in trouble during that time.

If he is not successful, Maloney said, he will be sentenced to the mandatory $300 fine and 14 days in jail.

Don Avery Somerset County Jail photo

“Per the deferred agreement, he will continue in psychological counseling and maintain compliance with all family matter orders,” Maloney said in an email to the Morning Sentinel. “Either way he will be convicted of the assault. If he successfully completes the one year deferred without any violations, he will avoid jail time. Either way — successful or unsuccessful — he will be convicted of criminal assault.”

Sentencing is deferred until a final dispositional hearing set for April 22, 2020.

“His status as a law enforcement officer is up to the Maine Criminal Justice Academy through their administrative process,” Maloney said this week. “Maine law will not prohibit him from carrying a firearm, but he may be prohibited under federal law.”

Skowhegan Town Manager Christine Almand said Thursday it is too early to predict what Avery’s job status will be.

“Now that there has been an agreement reached through the judicial process, our internal process can proceed,” Almand said in an email. “That process is handled by the Police Chief. It is certainly too early for me to comment or otherwise influence the process in order to preserve fairness to all parties involved.”

Police Chief David Bucknam did not respond to a request for comment on Avery’s current or future status as a police officer.

A call placed to Avery’s cellphone Thursday was not returned immediately.

Friends and family members told investigators that physical and verbal abuse had been ongoing between Avery and his ex-wife, according to court documents. The case file is many pages long.

Avery’s ex-wife, whose identity the Morning Sentinel is not publishing because she is the victim of domestic violence, told investigators that she had been assaulted in February, March and April 2017 and finally on or about Father’s Day 2018, when a family member reported seeing Avery push the woman to the floor, where she was punched with a closed fist, according to the court documents.

She was crying and bleeding from the head, according to the document.

Initial arguments between Avery and his ex-wife appear to have culminated in a separation in 2016 and later with disagreements over financial problems, in which the woman allegedly called Avery a “deadbeat dad.” Disagreements appeared to have escalated to a point that each party had obtained a protection order against the other.

The couple divorced in January 2018.

Avery was hired by the Skowhegan Police Department in March 2016. His current annual salary is $51,667, according to Bucknam.

Avery’s attorney, John Richardson, of Topsham, said in an email to the Morning Sentinel in September: “This case stems from a contentious divorce which (more than a year ago) included false claims of domestic violence that were dismissed at the time of the final divorce hearing. Police Officers are easy targets for these types of charges and for some unknown reason these claims have surfaced again.”

The woman said she did not report the alleged initial assaults because she was scared and feared that police investigators would take his side of the story.

Bucknam said in September that no one is above the law and that investigators would not take sides on such a case.

“As your police chief, I would like to stress that this agency is committed to transparency and I look forward to discussing this unfortunate incident more fully in the near future when the court system deems it appropriate,” Bucknam said in a statement Sept. 6, 2018. “Until that occurs, I want the residents to know that everyone in Skowhegan is accountable under the law. As unfortunate and sad as this incident is to me, let me be clear: No one in Skowhegan is above the law. Period.”

Richardson did not respond immediately to requests for comment on the case Wednesday and Thursday.

Maloney said the victim was happy with the disposition.

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