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Old Town police Officer Norman Harrington, who has sued Old Town and its city manager for $2.5 million, testified Tuesday in Bangor’s federal court, comparing his six-year battle against child sex-abuse allegations to his combat experience in Vietnam.
“Vietnam was a piece of cake,” said the police officer, obviously distraught. “In Vietnam you just had to die.”
Harrington said he never knew and never met the two Bangor children who alleged he had attended sex parties in his police uniform at their home. Also asked if he had ever abused his son, who was taken away from him by the state Department of Human Services, the police officer said, “No, I have not.”
Claiming that his constitutional rights were violated, Harrington sued Old Town and City Manager David Cole in 1989 after he was required to undergo the controversial sexual-response test, the penile plethysmograph, as a condition of his employment. He was accused, but never charged, in 1987 of participating in the infamous Lawrence child-sex ring.
The police officer was suspended from the Old Town Police Department and later reinstated by an arbitrator.
The plaintiff’s side rested its case after Harrington finished testifying, and the defendants are expected to present their witnesses on Wednesday, including a third expert on the plethysmograph.
Harrington’s testimony was some of the most dramatic in the trial, which began one week ago. Several family members sitting in the courtroom audience began weeping when the police officer described how he had contemplated suicide, saying he “had the opportunity once, and didn’t do it.”
Asked by his attorney, Warren Silver of Bangor, why he had refused to take the plethysmograph when ordered to do so by Cole in November 1988, Harrington responded, “A man should not be required to prove his innocence.” When it was first suggested that he undergo a sexual-profile evaluation, Harrington said he found it “offensive” and “degrading.”
Silver asked the police officer how his experience had affected his attitude. Showing emotion, Harrington said it had “shaken every belief an individual could have in the system and the people who operate the system.”
Old Town attorney Vernon Arey of Waterville tried to establish that Harrington’s emotional distress was caused by factors other than the required test. Harrington admitted that he suffered “a great deal of distress” because of the sex-abuse allegations, the DHS custody proceedings involving his son, Kristian, who also testified Tuesday, and Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy’s refusal to prosecute his police cases.
Harrington also testified that he didn’t get a sense that the city was concerned about his innocence during a March 1988 meeting with Cole and then-Police Chief Dale Gauthier. The city “was trying to get a way for me to resign …,” he testified. “They didn’t care if I was guilty or innocent. They wanted me to go.”
The police officer also said he didn’t have “any recollection of any specific conversation” about the plethsymograph with Cole and Old Town employment-relations lawyer Thomas Johnston during a May 1988 meeting. Last week, union representative John Basso, also at the meeting, had testified that Johnston discussed the specifics of the test, including the placement of “sensors” on the penis.
The police officer said his first recollection of the plethysmograph was during his November 1988 meeting with Dr. William O’Donohue, a former University of Maine psychologist who was going to administer the test. Harrington refused to take the test after being shown the room where it was to occur. “I called it quits then,” he said.
The city’s defense strategy suffered a setback, however, when U.S. Chief Judge Gene Carter refused Tuesday to admit as evidence an August 1987 report prepared by a Waterville psychologist, Dr. James Jacobs, who is listed as a witness by both parties.
In that report, done in connection with the DHS investigation involving Harrington’s son, Jacobs made a “provisional diagnosis” of pedophilia, concluding that Harrington fit a profile “which identifies 6.1 percent of incarcerated child molesters” and recommended that Harrington undergo a penile plethysmograph.
According to court documents, Arey intended to show that Harrington refused to take the plethysmograph as ordered by the city because he was afraid of a second diagnosis of pedophilia.
In denying the admittance of the report, Carter said the document contained “a great deal of unfairly prejudicial hearsay evidence.” He allowed Arey, however, to question witnesses about the report.
Harrington’s demeanor changed as Arey questioned him about his knowledge of the Jacobs report. Asked if he was told that a provisional diagnosis was made, Harrington replied, “I wouldn’t say that, no.” The police officer said the diagnosis was that, “I fit into a percentile, whatever that is.” He also said he had “no clear recollection” whether the plethysmograph was referred to in the evaluation.
Kristian Harrington, 18, and the police officer’s second wife, Alice, also testified during the day’s proceedings.
Over Arey’s objection, Kristian Harrington told the jury that his father had never abused him. He also described him as being “really depressed” and “real upset” around the time he returned to his father in the spring of 1989.
Alice Harrington described seeing her husband change from being “very professional, outgoing, nice” to being depressed, unexpressive, and unresponsive. She also said he lost 20 to 30 pounds after the allegations were made and Kristian was removed from his home.
After an early-morning hearing, Carter delayed making a decision whether sexually explicit slides and audio tapes used with the plethysmograph should be admitted as evidence. The judge reportedly listened to a tape Tuesday afternoon, and is expected to make a decision on Wednesday.