Former officer says he is scapegoat for a district attorney who settles sex offense cases too easily

Rockland officer resigns after DA questions testimony in MVHS assault case

By Stephen Betts | Oct 01, 2018
Source: File photo

Rockland — A Rockland police officer resigned last month after the district attorney announced he would no longer prosecute cases in which that officer is a witness because of testimony he gave in a case involving a substitute teacher at Medomak Valley High School accused of exchanging sexually explicit photographs with a student.

The former officer, Chris Spear, said, however, that he testified truthfully and that he was being used as a scapegoat by a prosecutor who has a pattern of pleading down sex offense cases when confronted with a good defense attorney.

Spear was hired by the Rockland Police Department July 30. He had previously served for four years as a school resource officer at MVHS in Waldoboro for that town's police department.

On Aug. 29, District Attorney Jonathan Liberman sent Rockland Deputy Police Chief Christopher Young a letter informing him that the district attorney had information that significantly compromised Spear's credibility, and his office would no longer prosecute cases in which Spear would be a witness.

Spear took a leave of absence from the Rockland department before he resigned Sept. 24.

At issue is testimony that Spear gave Jan. 30, 2017, at a hearing held at the Lincoln County court in Wiscasset in the case of William Bourget, 55, of Edgecomb. Bourget was charged with exchanging penis photos and sexual texts with a 15-year-old student at the school.

Liberman maintains in the letter that Spear did not give truthful testimony about the credibility of the teenager.

"As you can imagine, this had a catastrophic impact on the Bourget case, and resulted in us significantly compromising its settlement," Liberman said in his Aug. 29 letter to Rockland.

The District Attorney's Office ended up dismissing charges of felony sexual exploitation of a minor and possession of sexually explicit materials involving a minor against Bourget. In exchange, Bourget admitted Aug. 21 to a misdemeanor assault, which is being handled through a deferred disposition. That agreement calls for Bourget to refrain from criminal conduct, undergo an evaluation and receive whatever counseling is recommended over the next 12 months. If Bourget complies with those terms, he will be fined $300.

Spear said, however, that he was not dishonest in his testimony.

Spear learned of the inappropriate contact between Bourget and the student in May 2016. He seized Bourget's cellphone and contacted both Waldoboro Police Chief William Labombarde and the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office. The case was assigned to Lincoln County Sheriff's Detective Jared Mitkus.

Mitkus obtained a search warrant that day and seized other computers that Bourget had at his Edgecomb residence.

Bourget hired defense attorney Leonard Sharon, who filed a motion to suppress the seizure of the phone and computers, saying the officer did not have probable cause.

During that hearing, Spear was questioned by Lincoln County Assistant District Attorney Katie Dakers about any information he had on the credibility of the 15-year-old student. A transcript of that hearing shows that Spear said he had no reason to believe that the teen was lying about his contact with Bourget. Spear also testified that he had no indication the teen would fabricate evidence.

Justice Daniel Billings asked Spear during the hearing whether he had any prior dealings with the victim and another student -- who alerted the school about the possible interaction between the teen victim and Bourget -- that would raise questions about their truthfulness. Spear said no and began talking about the witness when Billings followed up with another question about the witness.

The court denied the defense attempt to suppress the seizure of the computers and phone.

Liberman said, however, that as he prepared for the Bourget trial in August 2018, he found a case in which Spear was the investigating officer, and the alleged victim had been charged with possession of marijuana in April 2017. The officer stated in that report that he had had numerous interactions with the youth about his deceptive behavior.

Liberman said he contacted Spear Aug. 17, 2018, on the eve of Bourget's trial about what appeared to be inconsistencies in his statements at the January 2017 hearing and the April 2017 case. Liberman said Spear told him during that conversation that he had concerns about the teen's deceptive nature prior to the Bourget case.

Spear told Liberman that he had alerted both Mitkus and Dakers about his concerns, according to Liberman's letter to Rockland. The prosecutor said he spoke with both the detective and the assistant district attorney after the conversation with Spear, and both denied being told of Spear's concerns about the teen's prior deceptive behavior.

Spear told the Courier-Gazette last week, however, that he still believed the youth about his interaction with Bourget and that he knew the detective and prosecutor were familiar with the victim's background.

"I explained to Jon [Liberman] that the vast majority of people that I have worked with in law enforcement are repeat 'customers' and are not always guilty, in that they can be a victim one day and a suspect the next," Spear said.

The former officer also said the recording of the hearing clearly shows that during the questioning on the credibility of the victim, the presiding judge interrupted him during one of his answers and he did not complete his answer in regard to the teen victim.

Spear retained attorney Michael Cunniff of Portland, who sent a letter to Liberman on Sept. 7 and asked him to reconsider the letter to Rockland police in which he stated he would no longer use Spear in any cases.

And Cunniff said Spear's answers to questions about the teen's credibility during the January hearing were in the context of the accusations against the substitute teacher.

Spear's attorney also contended that Spear's comments to Liberman on the eve of Bourget's trial about the teen's credibility were in hindsight following the April 2017 marijuana case.

"In this situtation, Officer Spear testified truthfully at the suppression hearing," Cunniff said.

Cunniff also pointed out that Spear took a polygraph test when he was hired by Rockland and one of the questions was whether he had ever given untruthful testimony at a court hearing and that Spear successfully passed the polygraph.

The issuance of the letter -- known as a Giglio issue -- in effect ends a law enforcement officer's career.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in the 1972 case Giglio vs. the United States, ruled that the prosecution is obligated to turn over evidence that could raise questions about the credibility of any government witnesses.

Spear said the Lincoln County District Attorney's Office is not a well run office. He said both Dakers and Liberman are known for pleading down sex offense cases.

"The Lincoln County D.A. office is famous for pleading down if you have a half-decent attorney," Spear said. "In this case, he [Bourget] retains Lenny Sharon, a great attorney, and they got extremely intimidated and were looking for an excuse to plead this out."

"I'm a scapegoat for this case and my career is on the chopping block as a CYA moment for this DA's office," Spear said.

Spear said he had filed a complaint last week against Liberman and Dakers with the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar, claiming that the two prosecutors knew about the history of the teen victim, yet did not provide it to Bourget's attorney.

A board spokeswoman said Monday, Oct. 1, it could not comment on whether such complaints were filed.

Liberman disagreed with Spear's description of the office pleading down cases when faced with good attorneys. He said his office fully complies with ethical responsibilities and that is why he acted in issuing the letter and notifying the court and defense lawyer.

The prosecutor said Spear's not giving truthful answers about the victim's credibility could have resulted in the seizure of the phone and computers being thrown out by the court and that would have left the state with no case.

Liberman said he was unaware of the complaints to the Board of Overseers.

Spear said it was clear the prosecution knew of the youth's behavioral issues, because the District Attorney's Office had contacted defense attorney William Avantaggio of Newcastle to represent the youth in preventing Bourget's attorney from getting access to the youth's special education records. He said, however, he believes the youth about the interaction with Bourget and that the district attorney should not have dropped the most serious charges.

This is the second time in the past year that a Giglio letter about the credibility of an officer has arisen involving a Rockland officer. In the first case, the Rockland Police Department referred its concern about an officer's credibility to the District Attorney's Office.

In that earlier case, Liberman announced July 25 that his office would review all current and closed cases in which former Rockland Police Officer Jacob Shirey was involved. That action came after Superior Court Justice Daniel Billings recommended the prosecutorial review upon concluding that Shirey was not a credible witness.

Liberman agreed to review the cases handled by Shirey.

Spear said he has the support of both Rockland Police Department and his former employer, the Waldoboro Police Department.

Waldoboro Police Chief William Labombarde who is now also the MVHS resource officer -- said Monday, Oct. 1, he cannot believe that Liberman took his action against Spear.

"He's not deceptive, he's not a liar," Labombarde said of Spear. "This doesn't reach the level of Giglio."

"There's no recourse for Chris, He's done. [Liberman] has ruined Chris' entire career. It doesn't make sense," the chief said. "He's a good cop."

He said Spear's only involvement in the case was seizing the phone after being alerted to the allegations.

Labombarde acknowledged his stepdaughter is married to Spear.

Another local police administrator who is familiar with the case but who asked to remain anonymous because the department works with the District Attorney's Office, said that it appears that Liberman acted too quickly and should have requested an outside investigation before issuing the Giglio letter.

That administrator said Liberman was required to inform the defense about any information, but did not have to contend that Spear was being untruthful until the matter was looked into further.

Liberman is district attorney for Knox, Lincoln, Waldo and Sagadahoc counties. He is seeking election to the post Nov. 6. Liberman, a Republican, is being challenged by Democrat Natasha Irving.

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Here is the partial transcript of the questioning during the suppression hearing in regard to the credibility of the teen victim.

Dakers: "When you spoke with [witness] and [victim], did you have any reason to believe, based on your training and experience, that they were lying?"

Spear: "No."

Dakers: "Did you have any reason to believe that they would fabricate evidence for you?"

Spear: "No."

Dakers: "Have you ever heard of an instance that would give you pause in believing what [victim and witness] were telling you while working at the school?"

Spear: "No."

Billings: "So you had no prior dealings with either of these two teenagers to know whether they were truthful or not?"

Spear: "No. I only knew -- that was my first meeting with [witness]. I was told he was a squared-away young gentleman, that this would be his first time being involved in school administration."

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Comments (2)
Posted by: Randy Andrew Scott | Oct 01, 2018 18:52

Chris Spear is a power hungry, wanna be.



Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Oct 01, 2018 16:52

November will soon be here. VOTE!



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