Lewiston man claims religious discrimination

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A Lewiston man filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission, claiming an apartment owner and his son discriminated against him based on his religion.

Bruce Brown, who is Jewish, said that Ronald Boucher, who owns a home in Saco and his son, Joshua, 26, who lived on the first floor of the home, discriminated against him while he lived in an apartment on the second floor from June 2009 to April 2011. Brown said the younger Boucher harassed him and the elder Boucher was liable for his son’s harassment.

The father and son denied the accusation.

An investigator for the commission found reasonable grounds to believe that the son, Joshua Boucher, had discriminated against Brown based on his religion, but found no reasonable grounds that the father had done the same.

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Brown and Joshua Boucher should try to resolve their case; Brown should drop his case against Ronald Boucher, investigator Barbara Lelli recommended in her written report last month.

Brown said Joshua Boucher learned about a month after Brown moved in that he was Jewish. He observed him reading about Judaism and a newspaper printed in Hebrew. Boucher said he never talked to Brown about religion and didn’t know he was Jewish.

Brown said the two men had been friendly until Brown was helping to move heating system equipment into the basement. He said Boucher cursed at him. Boucher said Brown pushed him, angering him. He said he knew earlier they wouldn’t get along.

Brown said Boucher’s attitude toward him turned “cold and frightening” toward him after “menacing” tenants moved in over the garage.

Brown complained that Boucher engaged in illegal drug use and called police seven times over a two-month period in early 2011. Boucher admitted smoking marijuana, but said he was never charged with drug use. He said Brown also smoked marijuana, a charge Brown denied.

Boucher said Brown’s calls to police were harassing and prompted drug agents to search his home. He became so stressed by the accusations that he began staying at his father’s home, he said.

Brown said Boucher would set off the smoke detectors at night in an effort to drive him out of the building. Ronald Boucher said Brown would disable the smoke detectors repeatedly. Also around that time, Brown said that Joshua Boucher started partying and making “excessive noise,” accusations Boucher denied. Another second-floor tenant corroborated Brown’s accusations of odors emanating from Boucher’s apartment as well as evidence of partying and loud noises.

Brown also accused Boucher of interrupting his heat and hot water supplies roughly 20 times in late 2010 and early 2011. He called Ronald Boucher to complain. Joshua Boucher denied he turned off the utilities. His father said the heating oil, which also heats the domestic hot water, ran out in February 2011. Brown said his cable TV service, which had been free, was discontinued after February.

One night, Brown awoke after having been injured in his apartment. He couldn’t remember what happened.

On April 1, Brown found a swastika drawn in permanent magic marker on the window of his car. Boucher and the tenants who lived over the garage stood nearby snickering, Brown said. Brown called the police and said he believed Boucher had drawn the symbol in response to Brown’s calls to police accusing Boucher of illegal drug use. Boucher denied drawing the swastika.

Three days later, Brown said he found a swastika spray-painted on one of the hubcaps on his car. Boucher said the tenants who lived above the garage had talked about putting a swastika on Brown’s car. Boucher had told them not to do it because he would be blamed. He said he saw them do it, but he couldn’t say which one did the spraying.

One of the garage tenants said neither of them was responsible for the swastikas, even though her co-tenant had had one taped to the center console of his car. She said Boucher talked negatively about Brown and called him names, but never anything anti-Semitic.

One of the tenants in the house and the investigator both reported that Boucher is mentally ill.

Brown said he overheard Boucher talking on his cellphone to his girlfriend, admitting to actions Brown had attributed to Boucher, including the swastikas, making noise and turning off heat and hot water.

Boucher denied saying those things and denied having a girlfriend.

Brown shared with the investigator notes, including an interview by Brown’s attorney’s office with Joshua Boucher’s cousin who lived with Boucher in the home during part of the time of Brown’s rental. The cousin said Boucher and his father have “issues regarding race and religion.” Joshua Boucher does and says things sometimes without thinking of the consequences and does and says things that are racist and anti-Semitic. The cousin said Boucher would set off the smoke detectors to “drive the Jew out” and Ronald Boucher said he wouldn’t have rented to Brown if he’d known Brown was Jewish.

The cousin didn’t talk to the investigator.

The Maine Human Rights Commission Board is scheduled to meet on March 5 to vote on the investigator’s recommendation.

If the board supports the investigator’s recommendation, an out-of-court agreement is encouraged. If the two sides are unable to agree, the board would look to the legal department to recommend whether to take legal action before taking a final vote.

cwilliams@sunjournal.com

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