Jury convicts family members of interfering with arrest

ELLSWORTH — A Hancock County jury Monday found a Verona Island father, stepmother and daughter guilty of interfering in the arrest of the family’s then 18-year-old son.

The incident in question occurred on Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016, at the family’s residence in Verona Island.

Maine State Police Trooper Jacob Ferland and Cpl. Dan Ryan had gone to the house to arrest Joseph French on a warrant charging felony theft.

Once there, Keith, 38, and Betty French, 37, “harbored” Joseph, Deputy District Attorney Toff Toffolon said.

Ferland warned Betty French that he had a warrant for Joseph’s arrest and that he was going to arrest others at the household if Joseph didn’t show himself, according to a digital recording aired during the trial. Several minutes passed with Betty French yelling at the trooper to “step outside” before Joseph French presented himself to Ferland.

The defense attorneys — Robert Van Horn represented Betty French and Will Blaisdell IV represented Keith French — argued that the arrest warrant was insufficient because it listed the wrong address for Joseph French.

Ellsworth attorney Jacob Ferm represented Betty’s daughter, Kayley Jerome, 19.

A state police recording details dialogue between Ferland and French’s stepmother.

Ferland knocked on the door and said, “Hello, hello. Send Joe down. I know he’s here. I have a warrant for Joe’s arrest.”

The trooper testified that when he knocked on the door, it opened.

“Can you just wait outside?” asked Betty French.

“No, send Joe down,” the trooper said. “Unless you want me to start arresting people, send Joe down now.”

“I’m asking you to step outside my house please,” Betty said.

“Joe, it’s the state police, come down now.”

“I’m trying to work with you guys,” Ferland told Betty. “If he’s here, I’m going to arrest you for hindering apprehension.”

A few moments later, Ferland stepped outside to call the District Attorney’s Office. While Ferland was outside, someone in the family locked the door.

“… His parents don’t want us to come in and get him,” Ferland said. “His girlfriend’s here. I saw her. I saw someone through the window fitting his description. Do you guys support me arresting the people hindering apprehension? So, you’re all set with us going in? Great, thank you very much. OK Corporal [Dan Ryan]. We’re all set.”

“Open the door or we’re going to kick it in,” Ferland said.

Moments later, the subject of the arrest warrant, Joseph French, left the house and was arrested and put in a cruiser. The arrest warrant charged four counts of burglary of a motor vehicle and two counts of theft by unauthorized taking or transfer stemming from incidents alleged to have occurred Feb. 25-26, 2016, in Verona.

Meanwhile, Ferland went back to the house to arrest Betty on a charge of hindering apprehension of her stepson and a melee ensued.

Another teenage son used his smartphone to capture Ferland’s struggle to arrest Betty.

Betty tried to get away from the trooper, who ended up on the floor with her a couple of times before finally getting handcuffs on the woman.

An exchange is repeated over and over of Ferland telling Betty to stop resisting and her telling him that she didn’t do anything.

At one point, Keith French gets between Ferland and his wife and tells the trooper to arrest him instead.

“Keith, you’re going to jail too,” Ferland said.

Betty French’s daughter, Kayley Jerome, tried to intervene and grabbed Cpl. Ryan’s handcuffs, throwing the cuffs toward the front door and punching the officer in the process.

Eventually, all parties are cuffed and in cruisers en route to the Hancock County Jail.

During Ferland’s testimony, Toffolon asked why the trooper didn’t just issue summonses to the family members.

“It’s hard to do paperwork with people when things are escalated,” the trooper said.

Ferland said that when people are “cooperative,” he will issue summonses instead of arresting them.

“How were they not cooperating?” Toffolon asked.

“They told us to get out of their house and he [Joseph French] was there,” Ferland said.

The defense attorneys questioned why Ferland, who showed up at the house in uniform driving a state police cruiser, didn’t immediately identify himself as a police officer.

“I identified myself when I yelled up to Joe,” Ferland said.

Van Horn questioned why Ferland didn’t show either Betty or Keith their son’s warrant.

“We never do,” Ferland said.

Betty French, 37, took the stand in her defense.

Betty testified that she asked Ferland to leave the house to protect her younger children.

“We didn’t want our little ones to see their older brother get arrested,” Betty testified. “That’s the only reason I asked him to wait outside.”

“I was pretty scared,” Betty said. “I didn’t know what was happening.”

Betty also said she had “huge bruises” and that her “arms were completely black,” from Ferland’s treatment of her during the arrest.

“That was from him slamming me into the counter and breaking my oven door with me,” Betty said.

Photos of Betty taken at the Hancock County Jail submitted into evidence by the state do not show marks other than those commonly seen from wearing handcuffs, Toffolon said.

Jerome testified briefly in her defense.

“Did you ever hinder them from arresting your mom?” asked Jerome’s defense attorney, Jacob Ferm.

“I might have stood in front. I don’t know,” Jerome replied.

Keith French did not testify.

During closing arguments, Toffolon told the jury, “It’s clear that Betty and Keith [French] harbored their son and stepson. You got a real good glimpse of what they go through every day to protect the citizens of Maine. There was nothing wrong with the warrant. That warrant gave him [Ferland] the authority to enter the Frenches’ and arrest Joseph French.”

In closing remarks, Van Horn said the case is about police officers “barging in” without a proper warrant. The arrest warrant for Joseph had the wrong address.

Van Horn said the situation reminded him of the film “Caddyshack,” in which a golf course is torn up while searching for a gopher.

The trooper was “trampling all over everybody else’s rights,” Van Horn said. “He’s acting like King George’s tax collector. It’s an atmosphere of coercion and lawlessness.”

Blaisdell argued in his closing, “The state failed to provide a valid warrant.” He didn’t immediately identify himself as a police officer. Ferland almost immediately started threatening to arrest people, Blaisdell said.

Justice Robert Murray presided over the day-long trial. The jury deliberated for about four hours before issuing their verdicts.

Here is a breakdown of the jury’s verdicts for the three defendants:

Keith French: guilty of obstructing government administration, not guilty of hindering apprehension or prosecution.

Betty French: guilty of refusing to submit to arrest, hindering apprehension or prosecution and obstructing government administration.

Kayley Jerome: guilty of assault, criminal threatening, refusing to submit to arrest and obstruction of government administration.

There is no word yet on a sentencing date.

Meanwhile, Joseph French failed to appear for a court hearing in January and a warrant has been issued for his arrest, according to court records.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.