The police chief of Limestone confirmed an allegation made by the town's former town manager Elizabeth "Lizzie" Dickerson that a U.S. Border Patrol officer made the comment "a family of towel heads" while discussing that town applying for a grant which Rockland rejected.

The Rockland City Council voted 4-1 at its Monday, April 13 meeting to reject accepting a $7,000 grant from the Border Patrol to cover additional patrols in the downtown area of Rockland.

During that meeting, Dickerson, who is also a former Rockland City Councilor and former state representative from Rockland, spoke about her experience dealing with Border Patrol.

Dickerson said when she met with a Border Patrol officer and the town's police chief in the spring of 2019 to discuss the possibility of applying for the grant, the first words out of the Border Patrol officer's mouth were "just imagine if the chief saw a family of towel heads walking on Main Street."

Dickerson said the federal officer later said the town's department could stop someone who had an Arizona license plate, which Dickerson said would have been illegal.

She said she informed her town selectmen about the conversation but they still voted to accept the grant.

Limestone Police Chief Stacy Mahan said Wednesday, April 15 that Dickerson's recollection of the meeting with the Border Patrol officer was correct.

On Friday, Mahan said after seeing the news article, that he did not consider the comment racist.

"This was not the first words out of the agent's mouth nor in my opinion intended to be a racist remark. Ms. Dickerson referred to the proper term for the head wear and the agent acknowledged that," Mahan said.

The chief said Dickerson's reference to a traffic stop of a vehicle with Arizona license plates was a scenario she interrupted prior to the agent finishing his statement.

"Ms. Dickerson interjected you need a legal reason to stop the vehicle. I replied the assumption is that the vehicle was stopped for a valid reason. The agent then completed his scenario," Chief Mahan said.

The Limestone chief said he also informed Dickerson that the department would not be enforcing immigration law. He said he saw no change in the tone of the community after the grant was accepted.

Telephone calls were left with the Border Patrol office beginning Wednesday. There was no response from the agency.

Rockland Police Chief Christopher Young, who recommended Rockland accept the $7,000 grant, said before the vote that under no circumstances would Rockland Police Officers "be asking for or checking the immigration status of any person. No checkpoints or roadblocks of any type will be put in place. These funds will be used to address the threats identified above and to enhance the department’s efforts in working with our community to continue to make it a safe and wonderful place to live and work."

The chief said the U.S. Border Patrol has recognized "our coast line and ferry service to island communities as a point of entry for those who may attempt to gain access to our community for nefarious reasons; such as, drug trafficking, human trafficking and child exploitation."

Young said the added money would allow the department to "draw from existing staff to add extra officers on patrol during certain times to address these threats; as well as, continue with our effort of community engagement and working in collaboration with our citizens to further our commitment to community safety. Officers working under this funding opportunity will continue to build relationships with local business owners, ferry service employees and community members to enhance our response to a number of community concerns while also adding a deterrence at our points of entry for any persons who may wish to enter our community to cause harm."

The Rockland Police Department budget is proposed at about $2.18 million for 2020-2021.

Rockland City Councilors praised Chief Young during the April 13 meeting but voted 4-1 against accepting the grant, citing the history of the Border Patrol. Mayor Lisa Westkaemper voted to accept the grant money.

“I don’t want to be a partner with an organization that I feel is unethical, racist, often performing illegal behavior,” City Councilor Valli Geiger said at the meeting. “I just think we are who we hang out with, and we have worked hard in Rockland to have an excellent reputation and I think it would hurt us to partner with such an organization.”