Monday, May 2, 2011

Unlawful search?

Our home in Lille was raided on the morning of April 28, 2011. The raid was conducted by six individuals employed by the Maine Warden Service, assisted by two Aroostook County Deputy Sheriffs, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (also known as ICE), and a Border Patrol agent.

I was on the telephone with a friend when I noticed a few men dressed in green at my door. My husband and his friend were in the basement of our home, where they often sit and talk. The officers let themselves in without permission. Guns drawn, they ordered me to hang up the phone. I asked if they had a search warrant, and was told (eventually) that they did; however, it wasn't presented until about 40 minutes into the search. Though the warrant stated there was an affidavit attached to it, there wasn't one. One of the wardens assured me that the warrant was legal, and that the affidavit was available at the courthouse. A judge had signed the warrant. 

I wasn't satisfied that there was probable cause to search our home, and noticed that the address at the top of the warrant was for the "SANFORD RESIDENCE OF PETER MICHAUD", but we live in Lille (also known as Grand Isle). The description of the premises further down the warrant did list our  home in Lille, however. The affidavit mentioned in the warrant was that of Game Warden Jeffrey F. Spencer, who was present. I asked him what was in his statement, and what had prompted him to look at Pete's records. Then Bill Livezey, a special investigator for the Maine Warden Service, asked Spencer to step outside with him... no doubt to coach him on what not to say. I told all of the officers that they had to leave because of the discrepancy with the address, and the missing affidavit, but they would not.  

The search warrant was signed by the same judge (David Soucy) who recently held a bench trial in my traffic case though I demanded a trial by jury (see post last month); when I wouldn't participate, he entered a default judgment. Soucy had not responded to a motion I'd filed asking for proof of jurisdiction; and the police video/audio of the traffic stop, which I'd requested from the District Attorney, Todd Collins, was never provided to me, so that I could prepare for trial. Opportunity to review evidence must be more than just a few hours before trial; but D.A. Collins said he didn't have a copy, although a letter from the State Trooper's office mentioned he had been sent one.

Anyway, back to the raid. The reason for the search, we were told, was that Pete was a felon (convicted in 1981), so he couldn't possess firearms or get a hunting license. He was drunk, and 19 years old at the time; he'd gotten into a fight with a Canadian and taken the guy's money. He spent a few months in jail for that. We started dating in 1982. Here's a photo of us then:

We moved to Southern Maine after we married in 1983, and Pete completed the required contacts with his parole officer before we moved to New Hampshire. In 1989 we moved back to Maine; and not knowing he needed to have his right to possess a firearm restored, Pete must have answered "No" to the question on the Maine hunting license application asking if he was prohibited from possessing firearms. I'm sure he didn't even know what the word "prohibited" meant anyway. 

Officers took all rifles, shotguns, ammo, hunting license, two deer mounts, and more. The search lasted over four hours. I requested a list of the names of the officers who participated in the raid, and was told the information would be provided before the search was completed, but I had to leave before they were gone, and no list was left with Pete. A few officers did leave their "business cards." The Deputy Sheriff gave Pete a summons to appear in Superior Court in Caribou on May 19, at 9:00 a.m.

Amazingly when I asked two of the wardens "Who signs your paycheck?", they didn't know, or wouldn't say. For a good majority of the time, five officers stood at the edge of our driveway, just talking. Apparently they had a dog with them. I've heard that these police dogs are trained in only one area: drugs, firearms, or bodies. Which type of dog did they have with them, and why didn't they use the police dog? Probably because it would eliminate most of their jobs! And, they wouldn't get to search for what wasn't listed on the warrant: marijuana and drugs. 

Only a few officers were needed once it was determined that we were not going to try to protect ourselves from what we believe are violations of our right to bear arms and right to privacy in our home. An audio recording was being made of the search, I was told. Though I was eventually told I was free to leave (I asked), that is not the impression I got when they entered my home; and when I tried to leave my property to speak with my husband who was sitting in the Deputy Sheriff's car at the edge of our driveway, one of the wardens threatened to arrest me for interfering with an investigation, and grabbed my shirt sleeve as I began to walk towards the car. 
Here's some information about gun laws in Maine. Quoting from the article:
Among the 50 states, Maine consistently has one of the lowest violent crime rates. And while any figures on the level of gun ownership would be conjecture because there is no registration requirement here, Maine takes among the most permissive positions on gun regulation and has a long tradition of hunting and self-protection with firearms.
Maine's gun laws are pretty lenient. In fact in 2003 and 2004 my husband purchased firearms from an outfit called Joe Jones in Windham Maine, which was apparently licensed as a firearms dealer. Was there no background check? And the state has been issuing hunting licenses all along. Here are some headlines from Maine Citizens against Handgun Violence. My husband has proven himself to be a responsible hunter and gun-owner. Should he be punished for life... be forbidden to possess firearms due to a three-decades-old fist fight/petty theft?