BANGOR – A Penobscot County Superior Court jury on Tuesday found both the owner and former manager of Lucky’s tavern in Newport not guilty on three counts of assault.
Assistant District Attorney Alice Clifford told jurors in her closing remarks Tuesday morning that many of the witnesses heard on Monday in daylong testimony presented contradicting versions of what happened last Jan. 25 at Lucky’s Tavern. But, she advised the jury, “look at the whole picture and determine who’s credible.”
After less than two hours of deliberation, the jury of three women and nine men chose to believe that Paul LaChance, 41, and his assistant manager Brian Craigue, 25, were not assaulting three rowdy patrons, but rather removing them from the premises after they already had been asked to leave.
Todd Whitaker, 30, of Hermon, Alan Shaw, 26, of Bangor, and Jeff Chasse, 35, of Woodland, had accused the men of punching, kicking and using pepper spray on them when Chasse called another patron “pretty.”
In reality, the jury ruled, the three men were intoxicated, pinched a patron and had used lewd gestures when LaChance asked them to leave.
Whitaker became enraged and pushed LaChance backward. Craigue came to LaChance’s aid, and with the help of several other bar patrons, the men were wrestled outside. Several people were injured in the melee, including Craigue, whose shoulder was dislocated.
In testimony heard Monday, LaChance admitted using the pepper spray in an effort to protect his property and patrons.
Meanwhile, the team of attorneys representing LaChance and Craigue dropped a bombshell first thing Tuesday when they asked that a recent arrest of the state’s key witness, Whitaker, for the same type of behavior he exhibited at Lucky’s, be allowed into evidence.
Justice Joseph Jabar denied the request, but not until Newport attorneys Joshua Tardy and Charles Cox told the court, outside of the jury’s presence, that Whitaker had been arrested earlier this month at the Ramada Inn at Bangor.
Cox said that Bangor police Officer Paul Colley notified him early Tuesday that Whitaker was completely out of control at the bar at the inn and “it took three police officers to hold him down.
“The officer said that in 20 years, it was the most confrontational bar scene he had ever seen,” Cox said in the courtroom.Cox said that Whitaker ran himself into the side of a Bangor police cruiser and then attempted to blame the police for his injuries. “This is a pattern,” Cox said. “He injures himself and then says ‘Here’s what you guys did to me.’ ”
Whitaker ultimately was charged with disorderly conduct and criminal trespass at the inn.
Colley confirmed the events later Tuesday at the Bangor Police Department and said the charges are being reviewed by the Penobscot County District Attorney’s Office.
Cox said the arrest should have been allowed as evidence because “this speaks to the level of aggression Whitaker reaches. My client was scared for his patrons. The Bangor police officer was scared.”
“Mr. Whitaker has been impeached [in Monday’s testimony] again and again. Mr. Whitaker is a liar and a violent person,” Tardy told the judge.
While he was testifying on Monday, Whitaker admitted that a $2,000 wage reimbursement he had submitted to the District Attorney’s Office was false and that he had never mentioned Craigue in his initial police report. Whitaker also admitted he lied at a liquor license hearing held in April where he testified that LaChance attempted to punch him first.
In their closing arguments to the jury, Cox and Tardy said that LaChance and Craigue not only had a right but also a responsibility to keep the tavern safe and secure for the remaining patrons and that their actions represented reasonable force in ejecting the men from the bar.
After the verdict, LaChance and Craigue left the courthouse without speaking to the media, but Tardy expressed his displeasure with the way the incident was investigated by the Newport Police Department.
“I found it disturbing that the only people interviewed were the three guys [Whitaker, Chasse and Shaw] that I think should have been arrested,” Tardy said.
He said the only attempt by Newport police to interview LaChance about the details of the incident came after he had already been summoned.
Tardy said that LaChance “respects the process and is relieved to have the criminal aspect of this over with.” LaChance is in the process of selling the now-closed tavern, and Craigue now is working in New Hampshire.
In May, the state liquor licensing division of the Maine Department of Public Safety upheld the town of Newport’s decision not to renew Lucky’s liquor license. The town had maintained that there was a management pattern at Lucky’s that allowed patrons to continue to drink after intoxicated.
Beyond the fighting, the state ruled that just two of the 10 drunken driving arrests stemming from Lucky’s in the past year would have been enough for Newport to prove its case.