A former candidate for selectman has filed a federal lawsuit against the town of Sullivan and Maine State Police, alleging that his rights were violated when he was prohibited from entering the town office.
John E. Keenan, 58, claims efforts by town officials and state troopers to prevent him from making contact with officials at the town office were illegal. He is seeking unspecified monetary damages, a civil jury trial against the defendants and an injunction against any efforts to prevent him from engaging with public officials.
Keenan is suing the town and the Maine State Police as separate entities. The only person listed by name among the defendants is Sgt. Gavin Endre of the Maine State Police, who issued a no trespass notice to Keenan in May of 2020. Endre served Keenan with the notice after Keenan allegedly was denied the chance to address selectmen during a meeting held via Zoom and then went to the town office to deliver a list of questions in person. It’s unclear why Keenan was turned away.
Two months after being issued the notice by Endre, Keenan lost a race for selectman in Sullivan to Russell “Rusty” Gordon by a 304-29 vote.
The lawsuit is an example of how disputes over contentious issues that have been raised at municipal meetings in Maine have become tricky for town officials to navigate. Heated discussions have sometimes resulted in people being barred from public meetings — and in municipalities paying out money to resolve resulting legal claims.
In 2021, the city of Ellsworth settled a lawsuit for $5,000 after a local resident sued, claiming her rights were violated when she was kicked out of a school board meeting. Last year, a Hampden-based school district settled a separate lawsuit for $40,000 after a far-right activist sued over similar allegations.
In a 25-page complaint signed and dated Jan. 30, Keenan describes several interactions with Sullivan town officials dating from 2019 through 2022. He says they were uncooperative, called police to have him removed from the town office, prevented him from speaking to town officials about town business, and at times denied him the right to vote.
Keenan claims that the actions against him by town officials and state police during that time frame constitute 16 violations of his rights under the Maine and U.S. constitutions.
Keenan is being represented in the lawsuit by Ellsworth lawyer Scott Fenstermaker.
Information about whether the town has an attorney to defend it against the lawsuit was unavailable Thursday. Sullivan town officials did not return a phone message left at the Sullivan town office.
In February 2022, Keenan was charged by state police with criminal trespass, a misdemeanor, for entering the town office building in violation of the no trespass order after he went there to vote. That charge is still pending in state court, according to Keenan’s complaint.
In a town newsletter from August 2020, town officials published a letter from Keenan in which he thanked people who voted for him the prior month.
“I would like to think that my run had sparked interest in our town politics that has been void of public involvement for too long,” Keenan wrote in the letter. “Our selectmen are in desperate need of new ideas from new faces.”
He also congratulated Gordon for winning the election.
“You dodged this one, Rusty,” Keenan wrote.