Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories jointly investigated and written by the Bangor Daily News and Portland Press Herald about how the Maine State Police conceals officer wrongdoing. Tomorrow’s story will feature the agency’s response to reports of a trooper’s domestic violence. The Pulitzer Center helped fund the series.
One Maine State Police trooper hindered an investigation into his former fiancee’s hit and run.
Another kept secret that he saw a fellow officer punch a handcuffed man in the face.
And a third trooper mishandled the investigation of a fatal car crash. The widow said the trooper told her he had her dead husband’s cell phone when he did not, and she lost the wedding photos and videos that had been stored on the device.
“I just wanted that little piece of him, so I could hear his voice,” said the widow, Naomi Long, of Augusta.
None of these details of misconduct are revealed in the state police’s public discipline records, which are either written in vague language or redacted.
During a three-month investigation, the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald worked to learn the truth behind the opaque language of more than five years of state police discipline records, drawing on police sources, licensing documents, court records, vehicle crash reports and witness interviews.
In doing so the newspapers discovered the state police may not be holding officers accountable to a level the public would find acceptable.
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Two criminal justice experts reviewed the uncovered misconduct and concluded that many of the punishments were too light for the officers’ misdeeds. The finding would not have been possible by examining the limited information in the agency’s discipline records.
“These are serious violations and serious misconduct. This type of light discipline not only sends a wrong message to the officer involved but to the entire department. It sends a message of relaxed accountability and almost encourages misconduct,” said Maria Haberfeld, a professor and researcher at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York who has spent her career examining police integrity.
Each discipline case takes into consideration the factors unique to the officer and the agency, responded Col. John Cote, chief of the state police. The state police “examines the totality of the facts and circumstances,” he said, reviewing whether the officer has gotten in trouble before and how the force has punished other officers in the past.
And while discipline records are public, state law doesn’t require the state police to explicitly disclose details of officer misconduct in its records, Cote said.
While some police departments have a discipline matrix, outlining to officers and the public what range of punishments could apply to various types of misconduct, the state police does not. And while some departments have publicized officer misconduct, the state police does not in order to protect officers’ privacy, Cote said.
read more from the misconduct concealed series
It’s important for consequences to be clear not just so officers can understand what is and isn’t allowed, Haberfeld said, but so officers and others can see whether discipline is applied equally.
“There is tremendous discrepancy in the application of discipline,” Haberfeld said. “If anybody wants to ensure that they’re dealing with a department of integrity, then we do need to see accountability and transparency and understand how it works.”
Police departments that obscure cases of police misconduct risk losing the trust of the people they are sworn to serve, research shows.
“Without transparency into police misconduct and discipline, it is difficult to have public accountability,” said Rachel Moran, associate professor of law at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, who studies public access to police misconduct records. The United States has a long history of “letting police officers police their own,” she added. “One, I think, important piece of changing that is letting the public see what a poor job they typically do.”
Since 2015, the Maine State Police has disciplined at least 19 officers. For 12 of them, the record of discipline contained so few details that it was not possible to know what the officers did wrong. The newspapers were able to put together more complete accounts for what seven of the 12 officers did.
The newspapers sent brief summaries of their findings to Cote, who said some were “not factually accurate.” He declined to state what he believed to be incorrect, saying to do so “would be in violation of laws protecting privacy and confidentiality.” All of the officers either declined or did not respond to requests for comment.
Misconduct described in record: He “violated the code of conduct policy (E-24) and violated the code of ethics when he failed to take appropriate enforcement action and fully cooperate with a law enforcement investigation.”
Discipline: Two-day unpaid suspension
Current number of years on the force: 23
On July 20, 2016, Shannon Leydon’s car drove off the road and crashed into a telephone pole in Gray, causing the hood to buckle, the airbags to deploy and fluid to leak from the engine. Instead of reporting the crash and staying at the scene, she drove a mile and a half, parked and called her former fiance, Trooper Andre Paradis, according to a Maine Criminal Justice Academy summary of the facts.
When Paradis picked her up, he discovered she had been drinking, according to the criminal justice academy, which can revoke law enforcement certifications for certain types of misconduct. But instead of reporting the crash to police, or having Leydon report it, Paradis drove her home to Falmouth.
Leaving the scene of a crash is a crime, but, for Leydon, the stakes were higher. Three months earlier, she had pleaded guilty to stealing the synthetic opioid fentanyl. As part of her agreement with the court, she was forbidden from drinking alcohol or committing new crimes, and Paradis knew it, the academy said. Leydon declined to comment.
Paradis’ actions also could have been considered criminal, according to the academy, which issues and can revoke law enforcement certifications. Under Maine law, it is a crime to provide transportation to someone “with the intent to hinder, prevent, or delay the discovery, apprehension, prosecution, conviction, or punishment of another person,” the academy pointed out.
But Paradis was not charged. Former Cumberland County Assistant District Attorney Michael Madigan, who prosecuted Leydon’s case, said the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office deputies who arrested her that night didn’t recommend any charges against Paradis, and the district attorney’s office didn’t eye him for prosecution.
Instead, the state police suspended him for two days for failing “to take appropriate enforcement action and fully cooperate with a law enforcement investigation,” according to his September 2016 discipline record. Separately, five months later, the academy issued a reprimand.
Paradis also appeared reluctant to help investigating officers. Deputies found it odd that Paradis, a state trooper, believed Leydon’s story that she’d hit a deer, not a telephone pole, given the dented shape of the hood of her red Toyota Camry, according to a deputy’s police report. When asked if she had been drinking, Paradis said he did not know.
A sheriff’s deputy pressed Paradis on his evasive answers. “[Paradis] said he did not want to get more involved than he already was,” according to the police report.
Moran, who researches police discipline, concluded his discipline was minimal.
“This trooper assisted in covering up a crime and also appears to have lied to police,” Moran said. “A two-day suspension indicates to me that the state police are not particularly concerned when their own troopers obstruct law enforcement investigations.”
Misconduct described in record: “You failed to provide timely notice, through your chain of command of a potential act of misconduct and you failed to provide proper documentation of the conduct through reports and interviews.”
Discipline: One-day unpaid suspension
Current number of years on the force: four
Paradis wasn’t the only trooper who didn’t speak up when he should have. In 2019, the state police suspended Trooper Tyler Maloon for one day for failing to initially report that he saw a fellow officer punch a handcuffed man in the face. The man, John D. Williams, was suspected of killing a sheriff’s deputy — the first on-duty police killing in Maine in 29 years.
Nearly a year after Williams’ arrest, in February 2019, the state police learned Maloon intended to reveal in an upcoming court hearing that he saw Special Agent Glenn Lang throw the punch.
One day before Maloon took the stand, the state police punished him for failing to provide “timely notice, through your chain of command, of a potential act of misconduct,” according to his discipline record.
The newspapers confirmed Maloon’s discipline stemmed from his testimony when they contacted Williams’ defense attorney, Verne Paradie Jr., in February.
The lawyer hadn’t been aware of the discipline, so he filed a petition with the court to learn more, prompting the Maine attorney general’s office to confirm it had investigative reports showing Maloon “did not initially report his observations of Mr. Williams being struck.”
While Maloon may have failed to tell the state police that he saw Lang strike Williams after he was in handcuffs, Maloon later told the attorney general’s office, spokesperson Marc Malon said.
Lang, who contradicted Maloon’s testimony on the stand by saying he struck Williams in the face because Williams resisted being placed in handcuffs, retired shortly after the incident in 2018. There was no discipline record for him.
Misconduct described in record: “[T]he August 26, 2019, incident.”
Discipline: Four-day unpaid suspension
Current number of years on the force: four
While Maloon and others were not charged with crimes, Trooper Daniel Murray was. It was after midnight in August 2019 when a Waterville police officer spotted a car leaving the tavern Mainely Brews without any headlights, according to the Morning Sentinel.
When a Waterville police officer stopped the car, he found a 15-year-old boy with his learner’s permit behind the wheel. The passenger, Murray, was intoxicated.
Because adults have to be alert and sober when accompanying an unlicensed driver, police charged Murray with the misdemeanor crime of accompanying a motor vehicle permittee while impaired. As punishment, the state police suspended Murray for four days.
Unlike other discipline cases in the last five years, a local newspaper captured the details of what happened to prompt Murray’s discipline. It got its information from Waterville police.
Without the newspaper account it would be nearly impossible to know why Murray was disciplined. The state police redacted a section of Murray’s discipline record, in addition to two other parts, without explanation. It refers to his arrest only as “the August 26, 2019 incident.”
Murray’s criminal case remains open in Kennebec County. He pleaded not guilty in September 2019.
Misconduct described in record: “The case alleges on March 4th into March 5th 2016 without permission you operated a motor vehicle in the state of Vermont after having consumed alcoholic beverages.”
Discipline: 60-day unpaid suspension
Current number of years on the force: 10
David Coflesky’s discipline record contains more detail than others, but the information raises additional questions. It states that on March 4, and into March 5, 2016, after drinking alcohol, he drove a vehicle without permission in Vermont. The context isn’t clear, but during an investigation into his conduct he identified himself as a Maine state trooper, the public record reads.
It doesn’t state whether he was charged with the crimes of theft or operating under the influence, which agency investigated, how his employer found out or the effect of his actions.
But the nature of his conduct triggered a mandatory report to the criminal justice academy, the licensing body for law enforcement, which reviewed what happened and published its own summary, providing a few more details: The misconduct happened in Killington, Vermont; Coflesky had consumed “substantial quantities” of alcohol; while under the influence he “took a motor vehicle without the owner’s consent” and drove it on public roads; and his actions were potentially punishable as a crime.
He was not charged with a crime, however.
Whit Montgomery, the chief of the Killington Police Department, recalled a few more facts: someone’s vehicle had been reported missing from a hotel in the area, and it had been found on Anthony Way, he said. He confirmed Coflesky had not been arrested. But he could not come up with more details. There was nothing corresponding to the incident in his computer system and no entry with Coflesky’s name.
When pressed as to whether he reported Coflesky’s conduct to the Maine State Police, Montgomery repeatedly declined to answer directly.
“I can’t recall any specifics, so I don’t want to make any speculation,” he said.
The state police suspended Coflesky without pay for 60 days. Instead of revoking or suspending Coflesky’s law enforcement license, the academy separately issued a reprimand and a three-year probation that began in October 2016.
Two years into his probation, the state police promoted Coflesky to detective, which came with a bump in pay, according to Maine Open Checkbook.
Scott Harakles and Chris Harriman
Misconduct described in record:
Harakles: “[Y]ou engaged in inappropriate communications with defense counsel or their representatives on an active homicide investigation. You also failed to fulfill the responsibilities of a primary investigator, including the failure to properly handle, analyze, process, document, and/or organize evidence and other work.”
Harriman: “[Y]ou failed to properly supervise the Wilson homicide case. You also failed to properly monitor performance associated with a work plan that was in place for [redacted].”
Discipline: They each got two-day unpaid suspensions.
Current number of years on the force: Harakles, retired after 25; Harriman, 31
The discipline of Scott Harakles and his supervisor, Sgt. Chris Harriman, shows how the absence of detailed public information can obscure more complicated situations. The state police disciplined Harakles after he told a criminal defense team he suspected prosecutors had manipulated witness testimony during a murder investigation, according to court and human rights documents.
Harakles’ concerns originated from the re-interview of a key witness in the case of Fuquan “Prince” Wilson, who had been charged with the 2014 murders of Russell Lavoie, 42, and Jeffrey Lude, 37, in Biddeford.
As Wilson’s trial date approached, Harakles, who was the lead detective, and Assistant Attorney General John Alsop re-interviewed the person who had driven Wilson to a bus station soon after the double fatal shooting.
The witness recalled Wilson describing the shooting as self defense. Armed with a pellet gun made to look real and a mallet, Lavoie and Lude tried to rob Wilson. After he was attacked, Wilson shot and killed the men.
“‘What was I supposed to do?’” the witness recounted Wilson saying. “‘Everyone was going to die.’”
At trial, the statement could help Wilson prove he feared for his life during the encounter. Harakles wrote up a summary of the interview, but, according to Harakles, Alsop edited the report and changed the witness’ statement to read “everyone dies sometimes,” according to court filings in the case.
Harakles reported what he believed to be Alsop’s misconduct to his supervisor, Harriman, and then emailed a complaint Feb. 20, 2017, to other superiors. Two days later Harakles was pulled off the homicide case, he wrote in a complaint filed with the Maine Human Rights Commission that he later withdrew.
When a defense investigator texted Harakles about the case, Harakles said he had been removed from it after he took “a very strong stand for the truth,” according to a transcript of the text exchange filed in court.
Wilson’s defense attorney, David Bobrow, called Harakles, who told Bowbrow he suspected the government had changed witness testimony to support the more serious charges of murder, according to a court affidavit describing the conversation.
The revelation led Bobrow to make last-minute attempts to withdraw Wilson’s guilty plea, but the judge denied them. Ultimately, Wilson pleaded guilty to manslaughter, not murder. He is serving 10 years in prison.
After Wilson’s sentencing, Assistant Attorney General Meg Elam called Harakles a “rogue” detective and defended her colleague Alsop.
“We’re gratified that the court rejected the scandalous claims that were made by the defendant that any evidence was withheld or altered by the state,” Elam said in 2017. “That never occurred.”
The attorney general’s office had no discipline record for Alsop.
Harakles received a two-day suspension for having “inappropriate communications” with the defense counsel on an active homicide case. He was transferred out of the major crimes unit in 2017 and retired in February.
Harriman, Harakles’s supervisor, was also disciplined in the matter for failing to “properly supervise the Wilson homicide case.”
Misconduct described in record:
2016: “[O]n March 21, 2015 you failed to properly investigate a domestic violence complaint.”
2018: “[O]n July 3, 2017 you failed to properly investigate and document a fatal motor vehicle crash.”
Discipline: He received a one-day unpaid suspension each time.
Current number of years on the force: nine
On a clear day in July 2017, Joshua Long’s sedan drove off the road in Charleston, in Penobscot County, and hit trees, killing him. No one knew why he crashed. He was the only one in the car, and he had not been drinking.
Long’s wife, Naomi Long, trusted Trooper Bryan Creamer to investigate. So she was shocked when she found her dead husband’s cell phone under the passenger seat of the wrecked car a few days later and was able to turn it on. Creamer had told her he already had it, she said.
The phone was priceless for what it contained: the videos and photos from their wedding just the year before. Reluctantly Naomi Long gave the phone to Creamer for his investigation.
It took five months, and repeated asking, to get the phone back, according to their email exchanges. By then the phone was broken, she said. The cell phone provider couldn’t revive it. Everything was gone.
Naomi Long and her sister-in-law, Deanna Long, emailed Creamer’s superiors to complain, and the state police found he failed to “properly investigate and document a fatal motor vehicle crash,” according to the trooper’s discipline record.
It’s not possible to confirm with the state police what, exactly, Creamer was punished for, as the record does not mention Joshua Long, the missing cell phone or an additional complaint that Creamer put incorrect information in his police report, which caused problems with an insurance company.
But state police superiors responded personally to Naomi and Deanna Long. In one email, the chief himself replied.
“Thank you for telling me about your experience,” then-Col. Robert Williams wrote to Deanna Long in December 2017. “And for the record. This is not the way Troopers are trained.”
The trooper’s punishment: a one-day suspension without pay. It was his second one-day suspension in two years for not investigating a case properly.
The state police did not tell Naomi Long about the discipline, she said. When a reporter told her of Creamer’s punishment, she said it sounded like “a mere slap on the wrist,” when she believed he needed additional training and empathy. In addition, follow up should be mandatory to give the family of the deceased some peace of mind and closure, she said.
She was not alone in her reaction. The punishment was “ridiculous,” and represented a “failure to treat serious problems seriously,” said Moran, with the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.
Even though her dead husband’s phone won’t turn on, Naomi Long keeps it, along with Joshua Long’s wallet and the hat he wore the day he died.
“It’s been three years, but when you find your person you think everything’s going to work out, and when it doesn’t you want to keep little things to remind you of who they were,” she said.
The episode marked the second time in as many years that the state punished Creamer. In September 2016, Creamer received a one-day suspension for failing “to properly investigate a domestic violence complaint” on March 21, 2015, according to his discipline record.
The newspapers tried to pinpoint what went wrong, and, with the help of Penobscot County Assistant District Attorney Christopher Almy, narrowed down Creamer’s cases around that time to one domestic violence incident in Cherryfield.
But the Washington County District Attorney’s Office declined to comment. The prosecutor who oversaw the case has since left Maine and said he didn’t remember it. The alleged victim herself said she had no memory of anything apparently wrong with the investigation. What happened will remain a mystery for now.