Police Overkill in the Pine Tree State

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Just a couple of weeks ago, Forbes rated Portland, Maine America’s “most livable” city.

Though the weather can be a challenge, and the recession has taken its toll on the seaside community, Portland is seen as a haven from crime and other turbulence. Indeed, Maine ranks third in a recent survey of “safest states” to live in.

According to the Portland (Maine) Police Department, the most pressing crime problems afflicting their relatively tranquil community include stolen pocketbooks, fraud, and the occasional robbery.

So, naturally, the PPD recently received a pair of M113 armored personnel carriers — better known as “tanks” — from the Pentagon. Oh, sure, people complain that they are a bit “too much,” acknowledges PPD Capt. Ted Ross. But he insists that the vehicles will “reduce the exposure to danger for officers who approach … hostile or armed confrontations.”

They might also come in handy if the PPD ever has to deal with a handful of wound-up college students at a campus dance, as their colleagues did over the weekend at Colby College in Waterville.

Early Easter Sunday morning, police from several Maine communities responded to a call from Colby campus security. When the first pair of officers arrived, security personnel were restraining two students, one of whom supposedly interfered with attempts to provide medical care to another student who had apparently fallen ill.

Each student had been swarmed and forced face-down on the floor by campus security. One of them, Ozzy Ramirez, was bleeding into the floor. A video taken at the time (and available at the website of The Exception magazine) shows a bloody Ramirez pinned and pleading to be let up while other students angrily — but non-violently — criticize the use of excessive force by security personnel.

Ramirez and another student, Jacob Roundtree, were arrested and charged with assault and criminal trespass; a third, Michael Talarico, was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct.

At a campus forum held yesterday student witnesses disputed the official account, insisting (as summarized by the Kennebec Journal‘s Morning Sentinel) that “campus security guards … harassed and assaulted students without provocation and that police sprayed one student with Mace three times, also without provocation.”

However the incident began, the involvement of local police exacerbated it. Confronting a small crowd of angry, upset college students, the police — rather than trying to defuse and de-escalate the situation — went the “shock and awe” route.

Officers on the scene sent out a 10-74, an urgent call for “all available officers” to come to the assistance of an officer in “real trouble.”

This emergency summons brought officers from Oakland, Winslow, Fairfield, Waterville, the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Department, and the State Police — to deal with a total of three allegedly misbehaving college students and a small but orderly crowd of their classmates.

Yes, Maine is a perfectly safe place to live, as long as you can avoid the police.

12:21 pm on April 14, 2009
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