ELLSWORTH — Former Bar Harbor Police Chief Nate Young maintains he wasn’t intoxicated but was mulling over personal issues when two of his officers found him inside his truck in the parking lot of the Town Hill Market, an incident that led to his termination in January 2014.
Young made the comments on the witness stand Wednesday, the first day of a civil trial to hear his complaint against the town of Bar Harbor. Young claims he was unjustly fired. The non-jury trial in Hancock Superior Court is expected to end Thursday but it could be months before the presiding judge, Justice Bruce Mallonee, issues a decision.
Young was fired by then-Town Manager Dana Reed after an investigator hired by the town concluded that the police chief was intoxicated and acted inappropriately toward the two officers the night of Sept. 25, 2013. The officers, Larry Fickett and Judson Cake, arrived at the closed store to check on a report of a person slumped over the steering wheel of a pickup truck. Young was the sole occupant of the vehicle.
Young and his attorneys, Gregg Frame and Ilse Teeters-Trumpy of Taylor, McCormack and Frame of Portland, contended Wednesday there was no evidence that Young, who was not charged, was intoxicated. No field sobriety, breath or blood tests were performed and the interaction with the officers was brief.
While being questioned by the town’s attorney, Mark Franco of Drummond Woodsum of Portland, Young testified he left his home that night around 9 p.m. because of an impending argument with his wife.
“I decided to go out to try to process those issues,” he said.
Young was asked why he didn’t hear the blast of a horn from a vehicle driven by the person who called police to report the parked truck.
“I was deeply entrenched in some serious personal issues,” he replied. “I have my own way of processing things.”
Franco said the report by investigator John Goodman wasn’t the only reason Young was terminated. Referring to the termination letter written by Reed, Franco pointed out that the letter also alleges Young violated town and department policy through his actions after he was placed on paid administrative leave in October 2013 while the investigation was underway. Notably, Young ignored Reed’s instructions to have no contact with town employees during the investigation.
Young characterized Reed’s instruction as a request and not an order and said he was reacting to what he said was “an assassination attempt on a 24-year career in law enforcement.”
Asked by Frame how the loss of the job affected him, Young said it was “devastating” and that he “wanted to right a wrong.”
Young also claims that Reed and some town councilors were calling for his dismissal even before the incident at the Town Hill Market. He testified he received only positive performance reviews from the town manager and had an “above average” relationship with Reed until May 2013, when the two met to discuss allegations surrounding a 911 hang-up call from Young’s residence in Mount Desert where police officers in that town responded. There was no case, no charges, Young said without providing details of the incident.
The meeting “didn’t go well between myself and the town manager,” Young said.
At a meeting later that month, Reed indicated that he was getting pressure from town councilors who “wanted me gone,” Young said, adding that he became concerned for his job. “I had seen this type of action unfold with other employees,” he said.
After Young was fired he filed an appeal with the Town Council. At the appeals hearing in February 2014, councilors voted 5-2 to uphold Reed’s decision. Young subsequently filed a complaint in state court, which later was transferred to federal court. A federal judge dismissed all but three of Young’s claims, which were considered to be state issues. Those issues — a Rule 80 administrative review of the town’s decision to fire him, breach of contract and that town councilors violated Maine’s Freedom of Access Act by holding executive sessions where Young’s situation was discussed without the opportunity for him to attend — are those before Mallonee.
The two now-former town councilors who cast the opposing votes at the appeals hearing also took the stand Wednesday. Robert Garland and Christopher Walsh told the court they had reservations about the process leading to Young’s dismissal.