EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 10, 2012

McDougall's obstruction trial closes

Salem official charged after run-in with police, firefighters

By John Toole

---- — SALEM — Even Salem official Patrick McDougall’s wife, Jane, acknowledges he was disagreeable the night in late June he tried to keep firefighters from giving her an ambulance ride after she called 911 twice.

But it’s up to a judge to decide whether his actions, including initially telling firefighters to go away, rise to the level of conviction for obstructing government administration.

The incident occurred late June 25 and early June 26.

Defense attorney Neil Reardon told the judge “being abrasive, being loud and being negative” is not a crime.

After a trial that lasted more than two hours in 10th Circuit Court in Salem yesterday, Judge Michael Sullivan took the case under advisement without issuing a decision.

Jane McDougall, subpoenaed to testify by police prosecutor Jason Grosky, at times sobbed, wiped her face with tissues and pleaded for her family to be left alone while defending her husband.

“He meant well,” she said.

She insisted McDougall, 37, a member of the Budget Committee and Zoning Board of Adjustment, cooperated with firefighters and police, but was concerned about the ambulance ride potentially costing the family $800.

“He was just explaining to them that we don’t have any insurance,” she said.

She acknowledged calling 911 twice because she was in such pain from a migraine headache she was determined to get to the hospital for medicine.

Police Officer Matthew Norcross testified McDougall told his wife she was exaggerating.

“He told her he didn’t want her to go,” he said.

Norcross characterized Patrick McDougall as “very agitated” in his conversations with police and firefighters.

Firefighter Bradley Palmer related how McDougall told them through a closed door there was no problem.

He eventually let them inside, but was concerned about them taking his wife in the ambulance, Palmer said.

“I think his words were, ‘You’re trying to get $800 from me,’” the firefighter testified.

Officer Scott Naismith described McDougall as “very arrogant” during the confrontation.

“Mr. McDougall started telling me I was being unfair, taking his wife against his will, I think were his exact words,” he testified.

He maintained the officers just wanted to get help for McDougall’s wife.

“We were just trying to get him to calm down,” Naismith said.

The conflict subsided after Naismith told McDougall he could drive his wife to the hospital himself.

But Norcross said that wasn’t the final word from McDougall, who had a parting gesture to police and firefighters.

“He flickered his fingers and told us, ‘You’re all dismissed now,’” Norcross testified.

Though Palmer said McDougall was between the firefighters and the doorway that night, Jane McDougall said he didn’t get in their way and also was concerned about their son, Danny, 7, who also was in the apartment that night.

Reardon repeatedly asked the police officers and firefighters who testified if they knew Patrick McDougall and that he had expressed concerns about public safety spending as a member of the Budget Committee.

Fire Chief Kevin Breen admitted McDougall is an elected official who calls the department and shows up at the fire station probably more than he would like, but disagreed with Reardon’s suggestion McDougall is a “thorn” in his side.

“It’s not a relationship that’s all negative,” Breen said.

He testified McDougall’s family has received an abatement for ambulance service in the past, so he should have been aware costs can be reduced for those in need.

Sullivan at one point warned Patrick McDougall he would be removed from the courtroom after he blurted, “That’s a lie,” during Palmer’s testimony.

McDougall apologized, as he did when clerk Theresa McCafferty complained that his paper shuffling was interfering with the recording of the trial.

Sullivan excused Patrick McDougall was excused from the courtroom for several moments so he could get a drink of water after his coughing became loud. McDougall apologized and blamed it on a cold.

McDougall’s parents, Don and Carol, watched the trial. His mother comforted Jane McDougall when she left the stand.

The charge is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.