Arrested lawmaker showed pattern of bizarre behavior

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AUGUSTA — The Garland lawmaker arrested Saturday for allegedly pointing a handgun at a newspaper photographer had been displaying increasingly bizarre behavior at the State House over the last several months, according to Capitol Police and members of legislative leadership.

In early March that behavior led Capitol Police to impose a trespass notice on Rep. Fred Wintle, R-Garland, an order that barred the freshmen representative from entering offices occupied by the Legislature’s executive director, David Boulter.

Wintle,  was arraigned Monday in Kennebec County Superior Court on a charge of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon and a misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed weapon after allegedly pointing a gun at a passer-by at a Waterville Dunkin’ Donuts.

Wintle was not required to enter a plea at the hearing. However, as part of his bail conditions, a Kennebec County judge barred Wintle from the capital complex. The judge also added conditions that prevent Wintle from possessing firearms. He was also ordered to submit to a psychiatric evaluation.

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Wintle, 58, was still being held at the Kennebec County Jail in Augusta Monday night on $3,500 cash bail, a jail officer said.

The incident has triggered numerous accounts of Wintle’s actions over the last several months. House Speaker Rep. Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, told reporters Monday that Wintle had become more “combative” in the weeks leading up to his arrest Saturday.

Nutting also acknowledged that a member of the Republican House staff had been attending hearings in the Legislature’s Labor Committee, where Wintle serves as a panelist, to monitor the lawmaker’s behavior. 

Nutting said leadership had received several complaints that Wintle was “abusive in some cases” to people testifying.

“We had somebody around the corner at all times,” Nutting said.

Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin said his agency had kept a watchful eye on Wintle following the issuance of the trespass order banning the lawmaker from entering the executive director’s offices.

The order stemmed from two consecutive incidents in March during which Wintle had become “boisterous” and “unrelenting” with office staff over the condition of the flags flying over the State House.

Gauvin described the flags as “slightly tattered” and said Boulter told Wintle that the flags couldn’t be replaced until spring.

According to Gauvin, Wintle “wouldn’t take no for answer.” He also refused Boulter’s request that he not return to the director’s offices.

“He (Wintle) was boisterous and in staff’s faces,” Gauvin said. “He didn’t have good respect of boundaries. He didn’t assault them, but the ladies were concerned about their safety.”

Gauvin said he issued the order March 9. Gauvin said he approached Wintle near the State House reception kiosk. After telling Wintle that he was no longer allowed in Boulter’s offices, Gauvin said Wintle asked the chief “if he was carrying handcuffs.”

“At first I thought he was joking,” Gauvin said. “But then he said, ‘You might need ’em.’ “

Gauvin said it was the first time Capitol Police noticed that Wintle could be “a bit unreasonable.”

Nutting said Monday that Wintle’s behavior was getting increasingly more troubling leading up to last week’s events. Last Thursday, Wintle was asked to leave the Senator Inn in Augusta after bothering guests there.

On Friday, Capitol Police were asked to attend Labor Committee hearings because Wintle had previously become agitated.

Rep. Kerri Prescott, R-Topsham, told the Bangor Daily News that “Fred has been exhibiting erratic behavior for a few months now. I’ve seen a very big change in him, escalating in the last few weeks.”

Democrats in the House Minority Office said Monday they too had received complaints from their members.

Saturday’s confrontation happened in a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot in Waterville. Morning Sentinel newspaper photographer Michael Seamans told the BDN that he’d never seen Wintle before and was just getting coffee when the incident occurred.

Seamans told the paper that Wintle accused him of being “the drug dealer of the woman whose baby died in Waterville earlier this week.” Police said Seamans was in no way tied to an investigation of an infant’s death earlier last week at a Waterville homeless shelter.

Seamans contacted police, and Wintle was later arrested at gunpoint for allegedly pulling his .22-caliber pistol from his waistband and pointing it at Seamans. He did not resist arrest.

“The barrel of the gun was no more than a foot or two away from my chest,” Seamans told the newspaper.

Seamans said he’d stopped for coffee on his way to work when Wintle, who was standing beside his pickup truck in front of Dunkin’ Donuts, mumbled something inaudible to him as he went inside. Seamans told the Bangor Daily News that he then noticed Wintle staring at him through the window.

Seamans said Wintle was “nonsensical” when he later confronted Seamans outside.

Nutting said he and Republican leadership had been in touch with Wintle’s family and pastor about his “erratic” behavior.
“We took steps to try and deal with it,” Nutting said. “Unfortunately, we were unable to do that.”
Nutting on Monday declined to speculate about Wintle’s future in the Legislature, saying only that it was unlikely that someone with a felony conviction would be allowed to continue serving.
Expelling Wintle would require a two-thirds vote in the House.

According to his legislative biography, Wintle was born in Dexter and attended local schools. He served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, earning the rank of captain. Now retired, Wintle was elected to the Legislature in November to represent Dexter, Garland and Charleston in Penobscot County and Athens, Harmony and Ripley in Somerset County.

According to election results, he won each town to finish with the approval of 67.7 percent of voters.

smistler@sunjournal.com

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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