Thursday, April 24, 2014
SKOWHEGAN — Former Fairfield police Chief John Emery was ordered to pay a $500 fine and $140 in court fees and to surrender his driver’s license for 90 days in court Wednesday after pleading guilty to operating under the influence.
Former Fairfield police Chief John Emery pleaded guilty to operating under the influence Wednesday in Skowhegan District Court.
Staff photo by David Leaming
Emery, 48, previously had pleaded not guilty to the charge brought by police Dec. 24, 2012, the same day that 15 law enforcement officers were called to the road where he lives in response to an unspecified disturbance.
His lawyer, Walter McKee, of Augusta, said the change of plea was intended to close a case that has dragged on for months.
“In the end, it was a very triable case, but this just ends the case; peace in the valley and the case is over,” McKee said.
Approached outside the courtroom at Skowhegan District Court before the hearing, Emery declined to give details of the case.
“It is what it is,” he said.
Emery went on an extended leave of absence after the Christmas Eve incident and resigned in March for personal reasons. He had been in law enforcement for 27 years.
Emery lives on Palmer Road in Skowhegan, where police were called about 3 p.m. Dec. 24 for a report of someone acting strangely or irrationally.
He was charged with OUI a few hours later after a report about his vehicle being off the road, according to McKee.
McKee said Emery was not given a field sobriety test and Skowhegan police did not perform a blood test because of concerns about his medical condition at the time, McKee said. He would not say what the test result was, and the information does not appear in Emery’s court file. However, McKee did say that results of the hospital’s blood-alcohol test showed alcohol content that was greater than the threshold for intoxication, and Emery was charged with OUI.
McKee said “there were significant issues” about the test done at the hospital, not only because of the time lapse — four hours — but because the blood samples taken from Emery were destroyed before police could take the samples and send them to the state Department of Health and Human Services laboratory in Augusta, which is routine in an OUI case.
“All they had was a hospital blood test, which is done in a very, very different fashion,” McKee said. “It’s not done like DHHS does it.”
No affidavits or police reports are in Emery’s court file at Skowhegan District Court.
District Attorney Maeghan Maloney referred all questions to Deputy Attorney General William Stokes, who is supervising the case because it involves a local law enforcement officer.
Stokes said it is typical not to have a probable cause for an arrest affidavit, because Emery was not arrested that night.
However, there is a search warrant affidavit involving the Emery case, and that should be available at Skowhegan District Court, he said Wednesday.
David Sanders, a Livermore Falls attorney who has been vice chairman of Maine’s Board of the Overseers of the Bar, said Wednesday that while he has no specific knowledge of the Emery case, a copy of the search warrant affidavit is supposed to be on file at the court.
“The search warrant needs to be filed with the District Court within days after the search is completed,” Sanders said. “The question is whether or not somebody has filed motions to have it sealed. That’s up to the prerogative of the court.”
Clerks at District Court said Wednesday afternoon said there is no search warrant affidavit on file, and therefore no document to be sealed.
Stokes added that there are numerous police reports about the incident, but none appears in Emery’s case file.
Sanders said police reports are protected by state law, meaning they do not have to be released to the public unless the district attorney agrees to do so.
Stokes also said witnesses reported hearing gunshots in connection with the police visit to Emery’s home, but there is no police report on file to confirm that.
“There is information — gunshots were heard,” Stokes said. “Reports of discharge were heard. It doesn’t appear to be at anyone in particular, but reports of gunshots were heard.”
Skowhegan police so far have refused to release reports that detail events that led to the charge against Emery, saying the case was an active prosecution and the information protected as nonconviction data.
With Wednesday’s guilty plea, the case is no longer is an active investigation. The Morning Sentinel on Wednesday submitted to Skowhegan police Chief Ted Blais a new Freedom of Access Act request for copies of all police reports and court affidavits in connection to the Emery case. He did not respond immediately.
Stokes, McKee and Assistant District Attorney Joelle Pratt, who was in court Wednesday, said Emery did not receive preferential treatment.
“As a police officer, I think he stepped forward and accepted responsibility for the OUI, and he received a sentence that any other person would receive for a first offense,” Stokes said.
Doug Harlow — 612-2367