ELLSWORTH — After two days of testimony last week, the civil trial to hear former Police Chief Nate Young’s complaint against the town of Bar Harbor alleging he was unjustly fired was continued until Dec. 7.
The nonjury trial began Nov. 1 in Hancock County Superior Court and was expected to end the following day. However, time ran out before all witnesses could take the stand, leading the presiding judge, Justice Bruce Mallonee, to announce that the trial would be continued until December.
This week, a court clerk confirmed the trial would resume on Dec. 7 and not on Dec. 8 as Mallonee suggested in the courtroom.
Young was fired in 2014 by then-Town Manager Dana Reed after an investigator hired by the town concluded the police chief was intoxicated and acted inappropriately toward two of his officers when they arrived at the closed Town Hill Market on the night of Sept. 25, 2013, to check on a report of someone slumped over the steering wheel of a pickup truck.
Reed placed Young on paid administrative leave on Oct. 2, 2013, notifying him that there was an investigation underway into the incident. Reed also directed the chief to have no contact with town employees during the investigation. A short time later, the town received notice that Young had entered an alcohol rehabilitation program in another state under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Young returned in November. The report by investigator John Goodman was completed on Dec. 24. Reed fired Young in January 2014. Young filed an appeal with the Town Council. At a hearing held that February, town councilors voted 5-2 to uphold Reed’s decision.
Young subsequently filed a lawsuit against the town that began in state court and then transferred to federal court, where some of Young’s claims were dismissed. The federal judge in the case decided the remaining claims — a freedom of access violation, a Rule 80 review of the decision to fire him and breach of contract — are matters for the state court.
Young took the stand on the first day of the trial, testifying that he wasn’t intoxicated when officers arrived to check on his truck. He said he had consumed a “couple of glasses of wine” earlier in the evening and left his home to avoid a domestic argument. After driving around, he said, he parked at the market to “process” personal issues.
Young’s attorneys, Gregg Frame and Ilse Teeters-Trumpy of Taylor, McCormack and Frame of Portland, argued that Young had not been subjected to any form of sobriety tests and officers had not come close enough in the four-minute encounter for the investigator to conclude that their client was under the influence that night.
The town’s attorney, Mark Franco of the Portland law firm Drummond Woodsum, contended the incident at the market was not the only reason Young was fired. Young’s failure to heed Reed’s directive not to contact town employees during the investigation amounted to insubordination, they said. In addition, Young violated town and police department policies, Franco said.
Young claims there was a desire on the part of some town officials to have him terminated even before the incident at the Town Hill Market and their feelings played a part in the unfairness of the process from the beginning of the investigation through the appeals hearing.
“I felt the report that was generated was outcome-driven,” he testified at one point.
The two town councilors who supported Young at the appeals hearing, Robert Garland and Christopher Walsh, testified that they had reservations about the fairness of the process.
Walsh, while being questioned by Teeters-Trumpy, said he early on formed an opinion that Young was to be fired.
“I suspected it as soon as Nate was placed on leave,” he said.
Walsh also supported Young’s claim that the Town Council violated Maine’s Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) by discussing him in executive sessions without affording Young the right to attend those sessions as required by law.
Under questioning by Franco, Walsh acknowledged he himself had violated the law by disclosing to Young information about the executive sessions. Walsh claimed he received no training in the law surrounding the FOAA while a town councilor. Reed later would testify that state law requires town officials to complete a FOAA training session within 90 days of taking office.
Reed was the final witness called on the second day. He stated he had a “generally cordial” relationship with Young and that the former chief had always received positive performance reviews and had implemented needed changes within the police department. Reed said he had no basis on which to reject the investigator’s conclusion that Young was intoxicated that night at the Town Hill Market and that Young’s termination was justified.
“It put the public at risk,” Reed said. “A bigger issue was how he intimidated his officers.”
Reed also contended that the process leading to Young’s dismissal was conducted properly and there were no violations of the Freedom of Access Act during the Town Council’s executive sessions on the matter. The status of the investigation, not Young himself, was discussed in the closed sessions, he said.
Testimony is expected to conclude on Dec. 7. Attorneys for both sides will then file briefs on the case. From there, it could be months before Mallonee issues his decision.
Updated Nov. 8 at 3:30 p.m.