July 18, 2019

Michael won’t be prosecuted House panel to review ‘verbal assault’ charge

AUGUSTA – Investigators with the Maine Attorney General’s Office will not be pursuing criminal proceedings against an Auburn state representative who was accused Thursday of “verbally assaulting” two members of the Maine Senate.

Rep. John Michael, an independent from Auburn, however, still faces possible action by his peers in the House. The House Ethics Committee will review allegations against Michael at a preliminary hearing Tuesday in the Legislative Council chambers.

Michael, a former Democrat who has led several citizens’ initiatives, is alleged to have intimidated Sens. Peggy Pendleton, D-Scarborough, and Neria Douglass, D-Auburn, during an argument Thursday morning over the referencing of bills to various legislative committees. Senate President Michael Michaud, D-East Millinocket, barred Michael from coming near the Senate after the representative allegedly screamed obscenities at both senators in the State House.

In affidavits impounded Thursday but released Friday by the Maine Attorney General’s Office, both women admitted to being shaken up and frightened by their encounter with Michael. Neither plans to pursue charges against him.

“He was so close to my face while yelling at me that I was frightened, but unable to respond,” said Pendleton.

“He began shouting and leaning into my presence,” Douglass told police. “I could feel his breath and felt my space was being violated. … I think Michael could turn physically violent.”

Assistant Attorney General William Stokes said he had studied the women’s affidavits and the statements of a half-dozen witnesses and concluded there was no basis for his office to proceed criminally against Michael.

“We’re not taking any further action on our end,” he said. “We wanted to check and make sure there was no possibility that it would be actionable. It appears to be boorish conduct, but it doesn’t constitute criminal activity. We’re going to let the Legislature handle it internally.”

The matter may not be completely over for the Attorney General’s Office. By refusing to release the police incident report to reporters Thursday night, the prosecutors may have violated Maine’s right to know law. Stokes told reporters Thursday evening – eight hours after the incident took place – that he could not release the women’s affidavits and police reports because they were part of an ongoing investigation. But Gordon H.S. Scott, attorney for the Maine Press Association, said Friday he believed Stokes had improperly withheld information from reporters Thursday.

“There was no reasonable possibility that the release of the report would interfere with law enforcement proceedings or result in public dissemination of any information not readily available from other sources,” said Scott.

On Friday, at a press conference in Lewiston, Michael apologized to the two senators but continued to insist that this was just an argument among three legislators.

Besides being barred from the Senate, Michael was also asked by House Speaker Michael V. Saxl to temporarily step down from the State and Local Government Committee, which is co-chaired by Pendleton.

The Ethics Committee, which is made up of four Republican and four Democratic lawmakers, could dismiss the allegations of misconduct against Michael, issue a formal reprimand, fine him or expel him from the House.

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