BAR HARBOR, Maine — By a 5-2 vote late Wednesday afternoon, the Town Council upheld the firing of the town’s police chief.
Nathan Young, who was fired last month, appealed his termination by Town Manager Dana Reed and requested that the appeal hearing be held in public session.
The hearing initially drew around 120 people and, by the time it concluded six hours later, more than 70 remained. People who could not fit into the council chambers watched the proceedings on a video screen set up in an adjacent room.
Young had been on paid administrative leave since last fall after a Sept. 25 incident in the local village of Town Hill. Young allegedly drove while drunk after officers in his department responded to a report of someone passed out at the wheel of a pickup truck in the parking lot of a local market. Young was accused of tersely dismissing officers who came to check on him and of using his position as chief to discourage the officers from taking action.
Since being placed on leave, Young has acknowledged having a drinking problem and has received treatment and counseling. He has said that on Sept. 25 he was contemplating his personal problems but he denies he was drunk when officers checked on him and said he did not intimidate them into inaction.
Young was questioned Wednesday by Reed’s attorney, Susan Driscoll of Kennebunk, and by his attorney, Gregg Frame of Portland. Young said he never pressured the officers who came to speak with him, Judson Cake and Larry Fickett, to depart. He disputed Cake’s claim that Cake had to knock on the window several times to get Young to respond. After telling the officers he was fine and didn’t need their assistance, he said, they left of their own volition.
Young added that Fickett had become romantically involved with Young’s daughter and that Young’s open displeasure with the relationship may have affected how Fickett dealt with the Sept. 25 incident. Young said he essentially told Fickett at the scene that he didn’t want to talk to him.
“He was one of the ingredients of what was on my mind at that time,” Young said.
Fickett and Cake both testified Wednesday that they smelled alcohol coming from Young’s truck but that they did not witness anything illegal during the incident. Each officer said they left the scene with the understanding that Young would not drive in the condition he was in.
Two councilors, Christopher Walsh and Bob Garland, said the findings of an investigator hired by the town to look into the incident did not warrant dismissal. Jon Goodman, an attorney and former internal investigator with the Portland Police Department, concluded that Young was drunk when the officers checked on him and that he pressured them to go away.
Walsh said that despite Goodman’s conclusions, he did not think Young pressured the responding officers to go away.
“I will absolutely vote to reinstate the chief of police today,” Walsh said, eliciting applause from many in attendance. “I think there are too many things not adding up to take away a man’s career.”
Three other councilors, Gary Friedman, David Bowden and Peter St. Germain, each said they supported how Reed handled the matter and his decision to fire Young.
“It’s just an awful, awful situation for the town,” St. Germain said of the controversy. “I do think the manager did what he had to do.”
Reed said during the hearing that Young has been a good police chief for most of his career but that he violated the public trust last fall. He also said Young behaved inappropriately during the subsequent investigation.
Young never apologized or expressed remorse for the incident, Reed said, and was insubordinate by publicly criticizing Reed, who supervises all the town’s department heads.
“He fought the investigation all along,” Reed said. “I thought it was obvious from the investigator’s report that he was holding himself above the law.”
Reed declined to comment after the hearing.
Young also declined to comment after the hearing, other than to say he has been overwhelmed by the “hundreds” of messages of support he has received from people.
Young’s attorney said it will be up to his client what to do next but that he does not think the matter is over.
“We’re obviously disappointed in the result,” Frame said. “I’m fairly confident we’re going to appeal this in Superior Court.”