Maine officer accused of head-butting a homeless man
GREGORY D. KESICH Staff Writer
Copyright 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers, Inc.
A Portland police officer faces a misdemeanor assault charge for allegedly head-butting a homeless man last summer.
A Cumberland County grand jury returned an indictment Friday against Cong Van Nguyen, a patrolman with the police department since 1997.
Nguyen is on leave with pay while the charge is pending. No court date has been set.
Nguyen is accused of assault, a Class D crime that carries a penalty of up to one year in jail. He also faces professional sanctions that could last much longer.
Portland Police Chief Timothy Burton said in a prepared statement Friday that Nguyen could be disciplined based on an internal affairs investigation of the case. Nguyen also faces the suspension or loss of his right to work as a police officer by the Maine Criminal Justice Academy board of trustees, which will review the case whether he is convicted or not.
Nguyen could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Valerie Stanfill, did not respond to messages left at her office Friday.
In August, Peter Colthart filed a complaint with the Portland Police Department claiming that Nguyen angrily confronted him when he walked in front of the officer's cruiser.
The two engaged in an argument, during which Colthart said Nguyen jumped up and hit him in the mouth with his head. Colthart got the names and phone numbers of three witnesses who backed up his version of events, and then filed a complaint with the police department.
Burton's statement said police investigated the claim and forwarded the findings to the Cumberland County District Attorney's Office. District Attorney Stephanie Anderson said she is not required to take misdemeanor charges to a grand jury, but does in sensitive cases like this one.
A grand jury is a panel of up to 22 citizens who review charges in secret and decide whether they should go forward. The defendant does not have a right to present evidence. If a majority of the grand jury members believe more likely than not that a crime has been committed, they issue an indictment, which is a written accusation and not a finding of guilt.
Colthart, 27, was arrested Feb. 2 and charged with assault, reckless conduct and terrorizing after an incident in which authorities say he shoved Portland rescue workers and threw hot coffee at one of them. Last summer, he was convicted of trespassing at a 2004 rally with first lady Laura Bush in Auburn.
Nguyen was a refugee from Vietnam when he came to Portland in 1975 at age 5. He grew up in the city and was the first Asian officer hired by the police department. Before becoming a patrolman, he worked for the department as a process server and a translator.
The incident with Colthart could have an impact on Nguyen's career whether or not he is convicted of the assault charge, said John Rogers, director of the Maine police academy.
Police officers are licensed by the academy, and the board of trustees can suspend or revoke a license if members are convinced that a police officer engaged in criminal conduct even if a jury does not find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
A felony conviction is almost certain to result in a loss of license, Rogers said, but a misdemeanor conviction may or may not draw a sanction.
In 2003, Portland Police Lt. Ted Ross pleaded guilty to misdemeanor drunken driving. He was suspended for three months without pay and lost his assignment as head of the criminal investigation division. He still works for the department.
In 2002, detectives Patrick DeCourcey and Brian Regan were indicted on felony assault charges. They were later acquitted by a jury. Regan returned to work as a patrolman, and DeCourcey resigned from the department.
Staff Writer Gregory D. Kesich can be contacted at 791-6336 or at:
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