A tale of three towns in Oxford Hills … at night

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By A. M. Sheehan

AREA — Norway, Paris and Oxford. Three different towns, three similar experiences.

DOPE — Norway Officer John Lewis, left, with the assistance of Paris Officer Gino Valeriani, search a vehicle filled with young people after stopping them for a missing plate light. Lewis said there was an overwhelming odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle.

Riding with the local police agencies is an eye-opening experience. Depending on the time of year, the temperature, the phases of the moon, it can be a very busy night or a very slow one. It can be alcohol heavy or assault focused. Or it can be numerous car crashes and traffic stops.

Sometimes it can be sad. Sometimes scary. Rarely boring as every night, the officers all agree, is different.

Oxford

Sgt. Rickie Jack has been with Oxford Police Department 21 years. He has a sort of laid back attitude that does him well on the street. It diffuses things. Further, he knows most of the residents in the town so he is seen as more than a cop … a friend.

Working 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. on a Friday in October, Jack gets an update from his lieutenant, Mike Ward, at the start of shift and begins his night responding to a report of an open door at a residence. The resident is asleep inside and says the wind must have blown open the door as he realizes that his dog has escaped.

Jack leaves him looking for his dog and tells of his history with the subject and how he had to notify him of a parent’s death.

Jack follows this up with a quick traffic stop and a ticket for driving with no lights.

He then is called to a residence in the mobile home park on Skeetfield Road where the residents have no central heat and someone has just stolen their heater and fuel tank.

It’s now about 7 p.m. and he heads up for a quick patrol through the casino parking lots. A call comes in from dispatch saying Mechanic Falls Police want to bring someone to OPD for a breath alcohol test as MFPD has no testing apparatus. The other officer on duty, Reserve Officer Reginald Littlefield, takes the call.

As he finishes his patrol through the parking lot he responds to a call from the victim in a sex offense case he is working on. He parks and listens patiently as the victim works his way through his concerns. Jack is very supportive and reassuring. The call lasts 12 minutes.

Jack says the town is 60 square miles and he drives about 90 miles average each shift.

A call comes in for an 8-year-old in crisis. Jack responds along with Oxford Rescue and the child is transported to St. Mary’s Hospital in Lewiston. Jack confers with the child’s social worker for a moment and then heads out.

“We get called here a lot,” he says.

He talks abut the working relationship between the towns and the police agencies.

“At night all you got is each other … no chiefs, detectives just the other officers. The night crews are tight.”

Around 9:15 p.m., after driving back road after back road, checking on property and noting each one on his “run” sheet, he then goes to back up to Littlefield who’s on a traffic stop.

At 10 p.m. he makes his own traffic stop for a vehicle going fast, then slow, and over the white line.

Guns and ‘what if’

Then around 11 p.m. dispatch notifies him of a 911 hang-up call that is plotting on a back-woods road. Both units respond and drive down a rutted dirt road to see if they can find who made the call. At the end of the road amongst a plethora of parked cars is a camper with smoke coming from a campfire.

Jack gets out of his vehicle and speaks with a man who walks up. The man admits to having made the 911 call. He tells Jack how his brother had pointed “a 45” [caliber gun] at his friend and that he had dialed 911 and then hung up because he didn’t want his brother to know … he was afraid of him.

He says the friend is gone, took off home and that his brother isn’t here either. But as the man is talking to Jack and Littlefield, another man walks up behind them. It is the brother.

The officers separate the two – both of whom have been drinking – and speak with both. The brother says he was sitting in his car (one of many) and that he does have weapons in the car and permits for each. Jack then asks the brother to wait inside Littlefield’s truck.

They go and, with the brother’s permission, look in his car. They find multiple weapons including handguns and semi-automatic weapons.

The brother is arrested for criminal threatening and Littlefield takes him to county jail. Jack asks the brother who called 911 to write a statement but he declines saying he will do so in the morning when he is sober.

Jack leaves noting that he doubts the brother will give a statement but it won’t be a problem because everything said was recorded on the dash camera.

He drives to the friend’s house. The friend has no problem giving a statement and is still very shook up at having a gun held to his head.

Jack returns to the station for what he says will be three hours of paper work.

The children

Patrolman Alan Coffin has been a cop as long as Jack. In fact, he says, they grew up together in Oxford and went to the police academy together. They began their careers working for different agencies but ultimately came to OPD and both work the night shift.

He begins his shift at 1 p.m., on a Saturday in November, and is scheduled to work until 1 a.m.

The evening part of his shift,  starts and, in a sense, ends with a child.

His first call after 6 p.m. is for a 13-year-old boy who is being disobedient. He arrives at the home to see the child sitting alone, with his chin in his hands, on the front steps.

Coffin talks with him as the step-father rounds the house and joins them. A few minutes later, a car pulls up. It’s Mom. The four of them converse and the boy is polite and respectful although his eyes are suspiciously glistening. They send him inside as Coffin checks with the parents with regard to counseling and behavior progress. The boy is progressing.

Coffin proceeds to patrol his town. He drives by a home in the trailer park and abruptly takes a left to go around the block.

There was a domestic violence call there, he explains, and the man is not supposed to be there. He had seen a vehicle and wanted to check to make sure the prohibited person was not on the property. He parks around the corner and proceeds on foot.

A few minutes later he is back noting the man was not there but the smell of marijuana was pretty strong.

He then drives to an empty property that’s for sale and exits his vehicle, flashlight in hand, and proceeds to walk the property and check doors and windows.

“We’ve had trouble here in the past,” he says.

Next it’s a traffic stop for a headlight that’s out.

Dispatch calls about a suspicious complaint. The call comes in that someone in a red Hummer is throwing bottles out of the car and almost hit a motorcycle. There have been two calls on this.

Coffin arrives and the man in the Hummer gets out and speaks with him. Seconds later a female tries to join the conversation and Coffin asks her to wait across the street until he has finished speaking the man in the Hummer. She doesn’t like this and gets mouthy and loud as her husband joins her adding his two cents to the argument.

Finally they reluctantly cross the street. He finishes with the man and asks him to meet him at the cinema for further discussion. He then deals with the couple and they go back inside. He drives to the cinema.

The individual in the Hummer is a corrections officer and was the one on the motorcycle. He tells Coffin that the couple threw bottles at him “because his motorcycle was too loud.” He says he went home and changed out of his uniform and drove back to wait for the police.

Coffin suggests that in the future he simply call the police and stay home.

Another traffic stop for loud exhaust and no plate light.  A property damage accident, car versus deer. Coffin searches for an injured deer to no avail, takes a report on the minor vehicle damage and sends the driver on his way.

It’s 11:05 p.m. and a call comes in from dispatch regarding intoxication at the casino. One minute later a second call comes in with regard to a theft at the casino.

Arriving in Row I of the the casino parking area, Coffin meets up with casino security and two individuals who have been deemed too intoxicated to be driving. The other Oxford officer, Patrolman Jeremy Coron, also arrives.

The theft call has to do with a cellphone that is missing and its owner is sure it has been stolen. She is very upset as she has stored social security numbers, passport information, codes to her house alarm, bank passwords, etc. on her phone. Her husband has “pinged” the phone through an app on his phone and it says her phone is a half-mile away.

First Coffin deals with the intoxicated couple.

The female protests loudly that she would never drive drunk as she already has a OUI and simply would never do that. She says they were in the car to charge her phone but now she can’t find her car keys as she threw them when she saw the cops.

She tells Coffin they are from Bath and it is only 11 miles away. She doesn’t appear to have any idea where she is. They call a Bath taxi.

She searches through the back seat of the car and sifts through empty beer cans. Eventually she finds her keys. However, she has the savvy to know if she sits in the driver’s seat and starts the car she could be arrested. She is told to go ahead and charge her phone.

In the meantime casino security has prepared a “no trespass” order for the male as he had been mouthy with them. He refuses it and then starts mouthing off at the officers as well. The female chimes in saying it isn’t fair for him to get one and not her. So security obliges and issues her one as well. She accepts hers.

Leaving Coron to watch the couple as she charges her phone and waits for the taxi to make sure they don’t leave, Coffin goes back to the missing phone and meets up with the couple inside the casino.

He consents to taking the man to the point where his phone app says her phone is. A half mile or so down the road, up a long dirt driveway halfway up a hill, he pulls over. They get out. Coffin calls Coron and learns that the couple are still in the car charging the phone but all is quiet.

Coffin asks him to join him on the phone search. They all troop off through the brush and woods. They are gone about 10 minutes returning brushing off their clothes to ward off ticks.

They have not found the phone.

As Coffin drives back to the casino, the intoxicated couple’s vehicle passes him.

An abrupt U-turn, blue lights and the vehicle pulls over.

The female gets out full of excuses.

She fails a field sobriety test.

She is arrested for OUI and put in the back of Coffin’s vehicle. Coron stays with the male and calls for a wrecker. Eventually the male is picked up by the taxi and the wrecker takes the vehicle.

In the meantime Coffin has taken the female back to the police station for a breath alcohol test. He removes the handcuffs and asks her to sit in the chair.

BAC — A blood technician draws blood to test it for blood alcohol content after an OUI arrest in Oxford.

She refuses the test and demands a blood test saying he will cheat with the breathalyzer and say she refused, automatically costing her her license. She says that’s what other cops have done.

He says fine and calls a blood tech to come down. It is after midnight.

She then demands to go to the bathroom. He tells her she has to wait for the blood tech. She gets unruly. She says she has rights and leaps from the chair demanding the bathroom.

He calmly asks her to sit and explains that she must wait for the tech to arrive. She tells him she is going to pee on the floor.

This goes on for a while until she leaps up again and gets in his face. Ignoring his request that she sit back down she starts waving her arms and he is forced to put her back in handcuffs.

She now loudly demands another officer as she “doesn’t feel safe.”

“You assaulted me I don’t feel safe I have rights and I demand you get your boss down here.”

She points to the camera and says Coffin will get his when they look at the tape for putting his hands on her.

Coffin calls Coron in.

Eventually the blood tech arrives and takes her to the bathroom. They return and she allows the tech to take her blood all the while mouthing off about Coffin.

She then demands to call her son who is, apparently, home alone, although she has to ask him if he’s home or out. It is 2:20 a.m.

The number is dialed on Coron’s phone and the 15-year-old son answers. She starts off by telling him she is with friends in Oxford but instead of simply saying she won’t be home and not to worry, she proceeds to tell him she has been arrested and is on her way to jail. The boy gets upset. She hands the phone to Coron and the boy says although he knows he “probably can’t, could he please let his mother go?”

Coron calmly explains why that can’t happen and talks with the boy for a few minutes. He then gives the phone back to the woman who listens and attempts to reassure her child that “this won’t make any difference” because  they don’t live in Oxford. The child is smarter than that and eventually works himself into a full blown hysteria muddled with tears and anger at his mother. He hangs up on her.

Coffin puts her back in the car and takes her to the county jail. She gets mouthy again and tells anyone who will listen that she wants him to remove his uniform and she will take him outside and “beat the crap out of him.”

She accuses him of all sorts of things before she is marched away into a holding cell to await processing. The jail is very busy.

Coffin leaves. It is now 3:18 a.m. well past the end of his shift. He returns to the police department to do his paperwork and, perhaps, think about the children.

Norway

Officer John Lewis’ night shift on a Friday in mid-November begins as it ends … quietly. He start the night with a complete check of his patrol vehicle including all equipment and even any “dings” on the vehicle.

First call to come in is a 1080 – an alarm – at New Balance.  It is severely windy and very cold out. There have been repeated “tree on wires” calls through the county all day.

After walking around the entire plant, checking every door, Lewis determines there is no intrusion and lets dispatch know. Although dispatch has been attempting to reach a “keyholder” – someone responsible for ensuring the building is secure and turning off the alarm – it is unsuccessful.

Lewis leaves to answer a 911 “misdial” call. The call is a disabled man who is convinced the “cops” are “talking about him and plotting against him.”

Arriving at the address, Lewis greets the caregiver who apologizes. Lewis goes into the gentleman’s bedroom and spends some time chatting with him and reassuring him that the local cops think he’s great and are not talking about or plotting against him. The man is reassured.

As Lewis leaves, the gentleman shouts out, “I know it’s not you, it’s the staties!”

The night slowly passes. Lewis gets a motorist for going 51 mph in a 35 mph zone. A few miles faster would have been criminal speeding. As it is, the 17-year-old who was driving with a provisional license, will find he loses that license.

As he heads down Beal Street, Lewis is behind a lumbering truck hauling trash. The truck has a headlamp out. Lewis pulls it over on this cold November Friday – just before it parks in a driveway – to discover the truck’s inspection ran out in August, insurance ran out in May and registration ran out in September.

The driver says he is calling his boss as it is his truck and he just uses it to collect trash.  The boss tells the employee he was planning to get all that done on Monday and has an appointment for an inspection on Wednesday. Lewis allows the driver to park the truck in his home driveway and cautions him not to drive it again until all the paperwork is up to date.

Another alarm comes in for New Balance but this time dispatch says a key holder is on the way. Lewis circles the area again and sees nothing amiss.

It is now after 10 p.m. and Lewis heads down to the intersection of Alpine and Paris streets where the traffic lights have gone to blinking.

“This is a great spot,” he explains, “people just don’t stop for the blinking red light.”

In fact, most claim they didn’t know they had to stop, he says.

After a number of “rolling” stops, he pulls one vehicle over and, yup, the driver tells him she didn’t know [she was supposed to stop]. He warns her and she continues on.

Another car comes to the intersection and sort of stops. He pulls out because the vehicle is missing a plate light. He pulls it over by the cemetery just past the high school.

After asking for license, registration and insurance, he asks, “Where’s the marijuana?”

“Here it is,” responds the front seat passenger handing him a baggie of buds.

Lewis calls the Paris officer on duty – Officer Gino Valeriani – and asks him to come back him up for a car search. Valeriani  arrives and he stands with the three young people – ages 19, 18 and 16 – while Lewis searches the vehicle.

As he searches he mumbles to himself, “marijuana everywhere!”

He finally exits the car with a total of three baggies of marijuana.  He hands an evidence bag to the passenger and asks her to collect the “roaches” or unsmoked ends of the “joints” that litter the car. She does and there’s more than 50 or so in the bag.

He writes her a summons for possession. He does not cite the driver or other passenger. He does, however, caution the driver that she needs to fix the missing plate lamp and unless she cleans her car, any time she’s pulled over he car will be searched because it reeks of (unsmoked) marijuana.

The teens cheerfully pile back into the car and drive away.

Paris

Paris Officer Raymond Paar works the night shift. He joined Paris Police in 1993, making him the longest serving officer in the department. He has weathered numerous chiefs and is content exactly where he is, he says.

The first Saturday night in December starts slowly with an update from the day shift via Officer Bill Cook. As Paar settles into his cruiser and pulls away from the station, he starts to note how his style of policing is different from others. As he is describing himself as laid back he abruptly jerks the wheel into a U-turn, throwing on the lights and pulls a silver Subaru over.

“Headlamp out and no taillights,” he explains.

Out of the car he shines his light across the vehicle’s windscreen. He bends down and speaks with the driver accepting her paperwork. The taillights go on.

Back in the cruiser he shakes his head.

“She had the lights on the wrong setting,” explaining why the taillights were out. “But she doesn’t have an inspection sticker and I can’t ignore that.”

The driver had moved here from Georgia where inspection is not required and said she had no idea Maine required one. Paar reluctantly writes her a ticket for $133. ”

She’s a very nice lady,” he says.

This will turn out to be the most exciting thing for the next nine hours in a long, almost call-less shift.

With the radio silent – not just for Paris but for Norway and Oxford – Paar proceeds to patrol the many roads of Paris both in town – South Paris – and rural Paris as well.

Up and down South Paris streets, then out and around its roads both paved and dirt. Everything is quiet.

At one point – on Halls Pond Road – Paar pulls over to check on a pickup truck idling by the reservoir. After a brief conversation, he returns to the cruiser noting that it was just a young couple, living with parents, looking for some private time. They were sent along their way.

Finally a call comes over the radio. Dispatch tells the Paris units – Paar and a second unit with Reserve Officer Harry Sims – there’s a BOLO (Be On the Lookout) for a silver SUV.

“The boyfriend is ‘concerned’ that his girlfriend is driving from Sumner to Paris and she is intoxicated.”

Armed with a “best guess” address the boyfriends thinks she might be headed to, the units split a probable route and take each end. Paar starts with the assumed destination but the house is dark and only the owners’ cars can be seen. He then backtracks the most likely route the woman might take. However, he points out, “there are multiple ways she could go … .”

Eventually he calls in to dispatch that he is “back in service but will keep an eye out for the vehicle.”

He stops for dinner, patronizing a local fast food establishment. Then back on patrol.

“Doing this for this many years,” he says, “I know what looks normal and what doesn’t.”

This, he explains, is a big advantage when on patrol. All the roads, homes and cars are familiar so it is easy to spot something not quite right.

Around 1 a.m., the radio having been silent for hours, he returns to the PD to spend some time doing paperwork.

When he gets off shift after 6 a.m., he’ll pick up some breakfast and go home to eat with his wife. It will have been a long night.

asheehan@sunmediagroup.net