Accused of not reporting crash, altering records

Trial begins for Thomaston officer

By Stephen Betts | May 15, 2017

Rockland — Jurors will decide whether a Thomaston police officer broke the law when he failed to report to police that he had damaged a truck while plowing snow last year and then changed police reports made by other officers.

The trial of Michael Blais began Monday morning, May 15, in Knox County Superior Court.

Blais, 64, of Thomaston, has been on paid administrative leave since May 2016 as a result of the February 2016 incident. He has pleaded not guilty to tampering with public records, failure to report a crash, and leaving the scene of a crash involving an unattended vehicle.

Penobscot County Assistant District Attorney Stephen Burlock said this case was about a small incident that blossomed into something more serious. Burlock is prosecuting the case to avoid any conflict of interest because Blais and the local district attorney's office work together on other cases.

Defense attorney Michael Cunniff of Portland said during his opening statement to jurors that Blais immediately reported the crash to his Public Works supervisor -- Thomaston Public Works Director James Connon. He also pointed out that Thomaston Police Chief Kevin Haj later estimated damage to the truck at less than $1,000, which is the amount listed in state law that requires police notification.

Blais is both a longtime police officer and a part-time employee for Public Works.

Cunniff also said that changes Blais made to an accident report filed in the police computer system by Haj were accurate. He added that changes made to Knox County Sheriff's Office Deputy Arthur Smith's report were also accurate.

Burlock pointed out in his opening statement that Blais changed the chief's report, without the chief's knowledge, to reclassify the crash from a hit-and-run to a property damage accident.

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 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.

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.

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

There were varying estimates onf 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.

Justice Bruce Mallonnee is presiding over the trial, which is expected to last two days.

The tampering-with-records charges are Class D offenses and carry a maximum penalty of up to 364 days in jail, but that would be 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.

Blais has been with the Thomaston department since October 2003.

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