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Three Old Town Rotary Club members, one of whom was an Old Town city councilor, performed a skit re-enacting a controversial sexual-response test, the penile plethysmograph, during an April 1989 club meeting, said Old Town City Manager David Cole Thursday in Bangor’s federal court.
An editorial about the plethysmograph had appeared earlier in the local newspaper, and its author, Penobscot Times editor Robert Diebold, was guest speaker for the club meeting, testified Cole.
Two members, known for their “cruel hoaxes and cruel practical jokes,” had the club president, Linwood Vandez, also a city councilor, lie down on the table and pretended to show him slides, raising and lowering a bottle “as they saw fit,” said Cole.
The city manager, also a club member, said that he put a bag over his head and pretended not to be present.
“My feeling was that to try to defuse the situation with a little bit of humor was better than trying to defuse it in some other manner,” he testified, also saying that he hadn’t chastised club members for making fun of the matter.
Also testifying, Vandez said he didn’t know the practical joke was planned in advance. “I don’t think anyone did,” he said.
The testimony of the two witnesses came during the third day of the civil trial of Old Town police officer Norman Harrington, who sued Cole and Old Town for $2.5 million in 1989 after he was required to undergo the plethysmograph as a condition of his employment.
Harrington was accused, but never charged, with participating in a Bangor child sex ring. He was suspended and later reinstated with the Old Town Police Department, and sued Cole and the city on the grounds that his constitutional rights were violated.
Harrington’s attorney, Warren Silver of Bangor, asked Cole about the Rotary Club incident during a series of questions designed to elicit when Cole and the city council knew the details about the penile plethysmograph.
Cole, who started testifying Wednesday, said that he had only “a general understanding” about the sexual evaluation he ordered Harrington to undergo in November 1988. He said he became aware of the test details between November 1988 and May 1989, and he thought the council became aware of the plethysmograph through the April 1989 news article.
Silver, referring to notes from attorney Thomas Johnston, Old Town’s employment relations lawyer who testified earlier, questioned Cole about whether he intended to force Harrington to resign by requiring the sexual-response testing. Cole said, however, that he wanted to use the data to get Harrington back to work.
“That was our hope,” he said, adding he had considered rescinding his order “at some point when I found out what the pleythsmograph entailed.”
Cole’s testimony was contradicted, however, by that of John Basso, a union representative who worked with Harrington to get him reinstated. Asked if Cole and Johnston had shown concern that the police officer would resign during a May 1988 meeting, Basso said, “No, they wanted Norman resigned.
“They wanted somehow to bring this situation to closure,” said the union representative. Resigning was “always an option they coveted.”
Saying he had been “stunned” by the description, Basso also insisted that Johnston described the plethysmograph in detail during the May 1988 meeting and had provided “graphic detail of how the test would be administered,” including the placement of “sensors” on Harrington’s penis. Johnston said Wednesday he didn’t know the details about the plethysmograph until November 1988.
Harrington was “quite shook up about it,” said Basso, and in fact, had undergone a significant change in his appearance since the union agent had seen him earlier. The police officer appeared “real fragile to me,” with slurred speech and a short attention span, said Basso.
Old Town police Chief Don O’Halloran, a former Bangor officer who supervised the detectives investigating the child sex-abuse case, testified that Harrington was a good officer and “gets along very well” with his colleagues. The police chief also said there had been no complaints against Harrington since his reinstatement.
O’Halloran wasn’t questioned, however, about the Bangor investigation.
The trial is expected to continue Friday with expert testimony from Dr. Howard Barbaree of Kingston, Ontario, Canada, who will testify about the history and use of the plethysmograph.
The trial is being heard by a jury of six women and two men, with U.S. Chief Judge Gene Carter presiding.