Jury convicts former officer of altering records after crash

By Stephen Betts | May 16, 2017

Rockland — A former Thomaston police officer received no jail time after being convicted Tuesday of altering police records and failing to report a motor vehicle crash.

Justice Bruce Mallonee sentenced 64-year-old Michael Blais to 14 days in jail, but then suspended all of the sentence for two counts of tampering with public records. Blais was also fined $800 for those two offenses.

He was also fined an additional $200 for failure to report a crash, and leaving the scene of a crash involving an unattended vehicle. The sentencing occurred May 16 shortly after the verdict was announced.

A 12-member jury deliberated for about an hour before finding the former officer guilty on all four counts. The trial had begun Monday in Knox County Superior Court.

Penobscot County Assistant District Attorney Stephen Burlock had asked the court to impose a jail sentence of 60 to 90 days with all but a few days suspended. The prosecutor had also recommended to the judge that Blais be placed on administrative release for nine months.

During his address to the court in the sentencing hearing, Burlock said that imposing only fines would be a slap on the wrist. He said Blais' actions were against the fundamental integrity that is expected from public employees, including police officers.

Burlock prosecuted the case to avoid any conflict of interest because Blais and the local district attorney's office work together on other cases.

Blais has been with the Thomaston department since October 2003. He was placed on administrative leave in May 2016. He was terminated from the town's employ a month or two ago, Acting Thomaston Police Chief Timothy Hoppe said after the sentencing hearing.

Defense attorney Michael Cunniff of Portland had asked for fines only, saying Blais had already paid the price of having his career ended and the humiliation of being convicted of crimes.

The tampering-with-records charges are Class D offenses and carry a maximum penalty of up to 364 days in jail, but that is reserved for repeat offenders. The other two charges are Class E offenses, which carry up to six months in jail, but again, the maximum is reserved for the most serious incidents or for someone with a lengthy record.

Mallonee pointed out that Blais had a spotless record up until these incidents occurred. He said he believed Blais' actions were more out of arrogance than corruption.

"He felt it was a trivial situation that he would manage in his own way," the judge said.

The crash occurred when Blais backed a town plow truck into a 2003 Chevy Silverado, damaging both its passenger doors. The crash occurred in the town public lot in back of the business block during a snowstorm.

Blais also worked part-time for the town's Public Works department.

Thomaston Public Works Director James Connon testified Monday that when Blais notified him of the Feb. 8, 2016, crash he instructed him to report it immediately to the Sheriff's Office, but that Blais said it was a piece of "sh--" truck and that he knew the owner and would contact that owner.

The owner of the truck, Alexander Libby, testified that he did not notice the damage until the following morning and reported it that day to Thomaston police

Blais then went into the police computer system and altered a report filed by Chief Kevin Haj, which changed the classification of the incident from a hit-and-run to simply a property damage crash. Blais, who also worked part-time as a sheriff's deputy, also changed the report of Deputy Arthur Smith in regard to the crash.

Blais went to Libby's home Feb. 11 to notify him of the crash and provide him with information on how to file a claim with the town's insurance carrier.

There were varying estimates of the damage to the truck, with Libby getting one estimate of $2,700 to replace the doors. The Maine Municipal Association's insurance representative ended up determining damage at $1,047 and Libby accepted that payment.

Libby said Monday under cross-examination by Cunniff that he never had the truck repaired and he later had another accident with the truck and sold it for $700.

State law requires police be notified of a crash if damage is $1,000 or more.

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