EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 17, 2012

Salem official to resign after conviction

McDougall found guilty, apologizes for 'mistake'

By Jo-Anne MacKenzie

---- — SALEM — Patrick McDougall, found guilty Friday of obstructing government administration, said yesterday he would step down from the town Budget Committee and Zoning Board of Adjustment and focus on his family.

McDougall, 37, was charged with the misdemeanor crime after he argued with paramedics who responded to his wife’s 911 call late June 25.

Jane McDougall requested help because she was suffering from a severe migraine. But her husband told paramedics he was refusing treatment on her behalf, citing the family’s lack of medical insurance to cover the cost and his desire to drive her to the hospital himself.

Things escalated from there. His wife made a second 911 call while he argued with paramedics. Police were called. Jane McDougall finally signed a release form, refusing medical treatment, and was driven to the hospital by her husband.

After a trial last week that lasted just over two hours, McDougall was found guilty of the Class B misdemeanor by 10th Circuit Court Judge Michael Sullivan.

“The firefighters, paramedics and officers on the scene that night handled the situation with a great deal of restraint and compassion,” Deputy police Chief Shawn Patten said yesterday. “So, we were obviously pleased with the verdict, that the facts came out and that there was a guilty finding in the matter.”

In a phone interview yesterday, McDougall, for the first time, acknowledged his mistake and said he would resign from both his municipal board seats.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “People have the right to be represented by someone who isn’t hampered by personal issues. It’s time to acknowledge there might have been a mistake made.”

On the night of the incident, McDougall said, he was “exhausted” from caring for his ailing wife and stressed over financial difficulties. But, he said, he meant no harm.

“I’m a peaceful person, trying to deal with personal issues,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s about my child and wife, who I love very much. It’s time for closure and to try to move on with my life.”

But McDougall faces five other charges peripherally related to that incident.

After he went to the fire station and confronted fire Chief Kevin Breen, he was issued a written warning in mid-July not to contact anyone involved in the case, under threat of further charges.

“Please be advised that should you not abide by this notice, you could face prosecution for felony witness tampering,” Salem police prosecutor Jason Grosky wrote July 13.

But when a Salem police officer went to the McDougall home in late August to serve a subpoena on Jane McDougall, ordering her to appear as a witness for the prosecution in her husband’s case, things deteriorated further.

Patrick McDougall told the officer his wife was sleeping and blamed police for “breaking up his family,” according to an affidavit in the case.

A few days later, Breen notified police that McDougall had shown up at the Central Firehouse, seeking information about the right to refuse ambulance service. Breen told police he was braced for a physical confrontation after McDougall appeared to be ready for that.

That confrontation resulted in four new charges, two felony witness tampering charges, one for disorderly conduct and a fourth charge of criminal threatening. At the same time, McDougall was charged with another witness tampering count, also a felony, as a result of the confrontation at his home when police tried to serve his wife with the subpoena.

Those charges are still pending. McDougall said yesterday he could not comment on those five charges.

But, given the judge’s ruling Friday, he said he could speak to the original misdemeanor charge, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

“In the moment, I may have been too harsh and for that I apologize to public safety officials who were there that night,” McDougall said yesterday.

It’s the first time McDougall has acknowledged any wrongdoing. Until yesterday, he had steadfastly refused to step down from the two boards and just as adamantly vowed to fight the charge. His demeanor in the courtroom last week mirrored his previous stance.

At one point during the trial, Sullivan warned him he would be removed from the courtroom after he spoke during testimony from firefighter Bradley Palmer.

“That’s a lie,” McDougall said in the courtroom, prompting the judge’s warning.

The court clerk also complained about the noise McDougall was making shuffling papers and Sullivan had to excuse him for a few minutes after McDougall’s coughing grew loud. McDougall apologized for that and for the paper shuffling in court.

But yesterday McDougall acknowledged he had made a mistake, offered an apology and vowed to move forward.

“I’m a peaceful person. I just want to serve my community and do what I can to help others,” he said. “I hope others will have some consideration and respect for me. I decided it was time to stand up and accept responsibility, and ask for forgiveness.”

He said he needs to focus on his family, on parenting his son and resolving his financial issues. He works part time as a videographer. He acknowledged the conviction might not help him get a job.

“I know a misdemeanor conviction makes it harder,” he said. “I’m hoping someone will acknowledge that it’s not the most severest of crimes and will give me a chance. I think everyone deserves a second chance.”

He spoke repeatedly of the need for “resolution” and “closure.” He also acknowledged some members of the community had expressed the desire to see the town move forward without a board member’s personal problems interfering with municipal business.

But he said he had served the town well and was proud of his service. McDougall ran unsuccessfully for the state House in the Republican primary this fall.

He said his decision to step down now was not due to the judge’s ruling, rather because “it’s the right thing to do.”

“I will always appreciate the opportunity the people of Salem gave me,” he said. “I hope people appreciate I tried to do what’s right with regard to the community when I was on those elected boards.”

He thanked the people who stood behind him and said he hoped others would give him the opportunity to prove himself in the community.

“I feel that I’ve done a lot of good things in the community,” he said.

McDougall said he was in Derry yesterday, giving a ride to someone who needed one. He said one of his “proudest moments” was helping the Demers family get permission for a temporary mobile home on their property after their basement was contaminated by fuel oil.

A frequent critic of public safety spending, McDougall stood by his fiscally conservative positions.

“I tried to put forward the most fiscally prudent budget people could consider,” he said. “I wouldn’t take back a moment of it.”

He also repeatedly said he might have been “harsh” with EMT’s and police that night. But, he said, he only wanted to save the cost of an ambulance ride, not to deprive his wife of medical attention.

“I love my wife dearly, but she had medical issues that weren’t an extreme emergency to rush with an ambulance,” he said. “I was just trying to reasonably say, ‘Let me care for my own wife.’ It was not to prevent her from going, but to care for her myself.”

But in his ruling, Sullivan pointed out McDougall had twice previously received abatements for ambulance bills.

“Thus, the protestations of the defendant about anticipated ambulance/medical charges ring hollow,” the judge wrote.

He also characterized McDougall’s behavior as “obstreperous,” and said he found it was less motivated by financial worries than “antipathy” toward responding firefighters and police.

McDougall said he hoped since he is now taking responsibility for his actions, people can forgive his actions.

“I will get some help I may need as far as personal and financial issues I deal with in my life,” he said.