ROCKLAND, Maine — Knox County Administrator Andrew Hart has released documents concerning the discipline meted out to Knox County sheriff’s deputies for their participation in a bachelor party on Labor Day Weekend a year ago.
Altogether five deputies have received reprimands for their role in an incident in which then-Deputy Thomas Welch, now a trooper with the Maine State Police, was shocked with a Taser, hogtied and paraded around downtown Camden in the back of a pickup.
A video of the incident shows about 10 men outdoors at a bachelor party when the Taser is used. In the film, the groom-to-be drops to the ground and the other men bind him before covering him with oil and feathers.
According to information received from Knox County by the Bangor Daily News on Thursday through a Freedom of Information Act request, four deputies received written reprimands and one deputy an oral reprimand. Action against one other deputy, who is not identified, is pending arbitration.
Detectives Kirk Guerrette, Justin Twitchell and Michael Sprague, and detective Sgt. Reggie Walker received written letters of reprimand. Deputy John Palmer received an oral reprimand with documentation.
All five were found to be in violation of Knox County Sheriff’s Department policy concerning professional responsibilities and prohibited conduct. The policy states in part, “I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all and will behave in a manner that does not bring discredit to me or my agency.”
In addition, Sprague was found to have violated a policy concerning the use of agency equipment that is to “be used by employees only for its intended purpose in accordance with established agency procedures.”
The letters of reprimand that have been entered into individual personnel files have not been publicly released.
Among the documents released, however, were the recommendations of Lt. Joseph F. Kieras to Knox County Sheriff Donna Dennison after an investigation of the incident. The documents include administrative investigation worksheets concerning the findings and final action taken by Dennison.
Investigators said they took into account Palmer’s lack of experience at the time of the incident. He had been a deputy for one year but spent several months of that time at the police academy, leaving him “a short amount of time working as a deputy,” investigators concluded.
Palmer told investigators that “a sergeant with many years of experience had directed him” to pick up the Taser from Lincoln County and deliver it to the social function, according to Kieras’ report to Dennison. This sergeant was present during the entire incident, along with many more experienced officers. A new officer may have had partial belief that it was not a problem, investigators concluded, according to the pre-determination hearing report.
Sprague said during his pre-determination hearing that the videos were taken off-duty and were for private use. He said that a lieutenant who since has left the department for another job had given everyone permission to use the departmental cameras for private use, and that the lieutenant watched the videos several times in his office for two to five minutes and “just laughed.”
Sprague said the lieutenant never did anything about the incident, so Sprague thought it was not a problem.
In April, Sheriff Dennison ordered an investigation after viewing a video of the event, on the grounds that in Maine it’s against the law to use a Taser except in defense.
The Taser gun itself didn’t come from the Knox County Sheriff’s Department but was borrowed from the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department. Knox County doesn’t have any Tasers.
Knox County District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau and Dennison referred the matter to the state Attorney General’s Office after viewing scenes from the videotape showing the alleged victim being shot with the powerful stun gun, which delivers an electrical charge. The video also showed the man being covered with oil and feathers by those at the gathering.
Deputy Attorney General William Stokes reviewed the video. Prosecutors in May said that no criminal charges would be brought against the off-duty deputies involved in the bachelor party.
Dennison then conducted an internal investigation with the assistance of a Penobscot County sheriff’s detective.
Meanwhile, Stokes and Rushlau concluded that the officer who used the weapon should not be charged with a crime because Welch opposed the filing of criminal charges.
The investigation and legal services have cost Knox County taxpayers $16,705, according to records in Hart’s office.