Police & Fire

Federal judge dismisses ex-officer’s lawsuit against Penobscot prosecutor

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A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a former police officer against the Penobscot County district attorney because the complaint was filed too late.

 

The former officer, who is not identified in court documents, sued Marianne Lynch earlier this year. He demanded that Lynch remove information that incorrectly states he stole a knife from evidence and used excessive force as a police officer at a previous job out of state. The information is on a list that prosecutors typically keep about officers whose testimony at trial could be impeached by defense lawyers.

 

Neither the police chief, who allegedly gave Lynch the false information, nor the department in Penobscot County for which the former officer worked are identified in the complaint. As the district attorney for Penobscot and Piscataquis counties, Lynch can only include officers who work in those counties on the list.

 

The former officer claimed that he could no longer work as a police officer because of the false information in Lynch’s file. He claimed that Lynch never investigated the allegations she received from his former supervisor, who has since recanted. That violated the officer’s constitutional right to due process, according to the complaint.

 

U.S. District Judge Lance Walker did not reach the constitutional issue. He said that the former officer’s final deadline for filing a lawsuit expired on Sept. 8, 2019. It was filed on Jan. 24 in Penobscot County Superior Court and moved to federal court by the attorney general’s office in February, long after the deadline, Walker said in a Friday ruling.

 

Lynch referred a request for comment to Attorney General Aaron Frey’s office. Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Bolton, who represented Lynch, declined to comment. Michael Cunniff, the Portland attorney representing the ex-officer, said that his client would ask Walker to reconsider his decision and may appeal the ruling to the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

 

Cunniff said that his client remains certified by the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, whose board of trustees reviewed a similar complaint by the chief against the officer, gave him an opportunity to defend himself and found there was insufficient evidence to support disciplinary action.

 

The lawyer suggested that guidelines and legislation to “encourage and require respect for the civil liberties for first responders and community caretakers” and ensure their right to due process could be created by lawmakers rather than a judge.

 

“Maine law enforcement and corrections officers deserve the same sort of fair treatment for the same reasons that the rights of individuals under investigation or prosecution are protected, which is that the Maine and federal constitutions unmistakably require fair-mindedness,” Cunniff said.

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