In agreement, Portland cop pleads guilty to misdemeanor


PORTLAND (AP) – A Portland police officer accused of head-butting a homeless man hopes to be allowed to continue his law enforcement career after pleading guilty Tuesday to a misdemeanor.

Cong Van Nguyen pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and agreed to pay a $1,000 fine. In return, prosecutors dropped an assault charge that probably would have ended his career as a police officer had he been convicted.

The charge stemmed from a complaint filed in August 2005 by Peter Coltart, who claimed that Nguyen angrily confronted him and then head-butted him in the mouth when he walked in front of the officer’s cruiser on Congress Street. Coltart was not seriously hurt.

Nguyen has been on leave without pay since he was indicted last February. He now faces possible discipline from his department and the trustees of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, who oversee police certification.

He hopes to return to work as a Portland police officer if he is allowed to keep his certification and completes a “fitness for duty” psychological review, said his lawyer, Martin Ridge.

Nguyen agreed to plead guilty to the lesser offense because he didn’t want to risk his career by taking the assault case to trial, Ridge said.

“I thought we had a strong case, but I wouldn’t want to bet Cong’s career on it,” Ridge said. “Our belief is that he will be allowed to return.”

Coltart could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but a prosecutor said he had been informed about the plea agreement and approved of it.

Nathaniel Kuritz who witnessed the confrontation said he’s concerned about the possibility of Nguyen returning to the force. He said he saw Nguyen jump up to hit the taller Coltart with his head.

“I don’t think that there should be second chances given to officers who are supposed to protect people and then do things like this,” Kuritz said. “Hopefully he’s learned his lesson.”

Nguyen, a refugee from Vietnam when he came to Portland in 1975 at age 5, was the first Asian officer on the department when he was hired in 1997.

Information from: Portland Press Herald,

AP-ES-01-03-07 0745EST