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This was a big local story. I wouldn't have done this, but I give Tommy credit. He does something. He doesn't stand by, he takes action. I was sorry to see any charges brought at all. God bless you for the effort, Tommy.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Staff photo by Doug Jones

Attorney Tom Connolly, left, stands with his lawyer, Daniel Knight, after apologizing Monday in Superior Court for causing a dangerous standoff with police.

A Halloween standoff between South Portland police officers and a man dressed as the world's most-wanted terrorist was resolved Monday with a promise to help needy children at Christmas.

Tom Connolly, a well-known criminal defense attorney and political activist, issued a public apology, promised to do 30 hours of community service and agreed to donate $500 to the Bruce Roberts Toy Fund, the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram's holiday charity. In exchange, three misdemeanor criminal charges were dropped.
District Attorney Stephanie Anderson called the agreement presented in Cumberland County Superior Court an appropriate end to a dangerous situation that Connolly created, even if he didn't mean to.

"The state never felt that he intentionally pointed that (toy) gun in the direction of Officer Kevin Battle, but the gun did get pointed in Officer Battle's direction," Anderson said. "That created a situation where Mr. Connolly could have been shot."
Even though Connolly will not have a criminal conviction, Anderson said she did not believe he got off easily.

"I think Mr. Connolly has had some very serious consequences. His four children could have lost a father," she said.

Connolly, 49, of Scarborough was arrested Oct. 31 after motorists reported seeing a man dressed as Osama bin Laden dancing beside Interstate 295, waving a sign that said "I Love TABOR!" -- a reference to the spending cap referendum that was on the Nov. 7 ballot.
South Portland police officers responding to the scene were disturbed by what appeared to be an assault rifle dangling from a string around his shoulder, and hand grenades hanging from his belt.

When Connolly didn't immediately respond to an order to drop the weapon, the officers drew theirs. Officer Battle told investigators that he was ready to fire a round when the rifle was pointed in their direction.

Connolly was arrested, and eventually charged by Anderson with criminal threatening, terrorizing and reckless conduct, all misdemeanors.

Shortly after announcing the charges, Anderson said she began negotiating with Connolly and his lawyer. She said she was willing to trade a public apology, community service and a donation to a worthy cause for dropping the charges. Anderson selected the toy charity.
Even though she thought Connolly's behavior was criminal, the outcome was better than what would have resulted if the case had gone to court, because a judge could not have ordered the apology or donation, she said.

The agreement had the approval of South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins, and he said it was also approved by Battle. Googins said the department reviewed the incident and found the officers acted appropriately.

"Our tactics were sound," Googins said. "Officer Battle was in fear of his life based on what transpired. We are thankful no one was hurt and pleased with the outcome."

In accepting the agreement, Justice Roland Cole made no finding as to whether Connolly committed a crime.

"His actions were not well-thought-out at the time," Cole said. "I don't believe his motive was to do any harm."

Connolly's lawyer, Daniel Knight, continued to maintain that what his client did was not illegal. Still, he said, the outcome was the best for both sides because it did not waste court resources.

The agreement does not mean Connolly is clear of professional discipline such as a reprimand or suspension from the practice of law. The Board of Overseers of the Bar prohibits behavior that could compromise an attorney's "honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer." But the absence of a criminal charge makes a complaint less likely.

Connolly, who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1998, issued a written statement apologizing for the incident and promising to educate the public on the danger of toy guns.
"Simply put, knowing what I do now, I should have acted in a safer and more responsible way," he said.

Connolly wrote that since his arrest he has learned that almost 100 people a year are killed when their imitation guns are misidentified. He said he also understands that someone could use a Halloween costume as cover to commit a crime.

Outside the courthouse, Connolly said that as real guns are becoming more prevalent on the street, police are less likely to take chances.

"There's a disconnect between playing cowboys and Indians since (Sept. 11, 2001), and that's the nerve I hit," Connolly said. "One of the good things that could come out of this is that it will raise consciousness. You have to be a little more careful and maybe we can avoid some poor child being shot in Waldoboro or Portland or Lewiston, and what a great thing that would be."

Connolly will use his community service to educate the public about the dangers posed by toy guns, and to advocate for laws aimed to prevent accidental shootings.

Staff Writer Gregory D. Kesich can be contacted at 791-6336 or at:
gkesich@pressherald.com

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