MONMOUTH — The Attorney General’s Office is investigating a complaint against the Monmouth police chief, who a town Planning Board member has accused of abuse of power.

According to a lawyer connected to the case, police Chief Robert Annese is accused of using the power of his position to track down the person who rented a post office box to which surveys about the Police Department had been mailed.

The person who rented that box, Planning Board member Ray Simond, had taken out an ad requesting that Monmouth residents fill out a survey with their thoughts on the Police Department and the budget.

“This is very disturbing,” said attorney Walter McKee, who is representing Simond in the case. “This P.O. box was rented to gather information about what issues people had with the Monmouth police. The chief has no right to investigate people he thinks are critical of his department.”

Simond sought feedback from the public after Monmouth residents rejected a new police budget in July. Residents mailed their surveys to a post office box labeled the “Monmouth Mailbag.”

According to McKee, Annese filed a form to the post office requesting to know who had rented that particular box.

“The form says that the chief certified that the information is ‘required for the performance of this agency’s official duties,'” McKee said. “What official duties? Investigating critics?”

Monmouth residents are expected to vote on a police budget for a fifth time on Nov. 24. WGME reported that 60 percent of respondents to the survey expressed dissatisfaction with the Police Department.

Annese, who was hired as Monmouth police chief in 2006 after retiring from the police force in Brunswick, could not be located for comment Wednesday night. Simond did not immediately return telephone calls.

McKee said his client had been interviewed by investigators from the AG’s Office who are looking into the allegations. The lawyer said he and his client found it alarming that steps were taken to uncover who was gathering input from the public in the survey.

“”This is something right out of the 1950s — law enforcement using official powers to investigate critics,” McKee said. “This is right out of the J. Edgar Hoover playbook and has no place in Monmouth or anywhere.” 

The lawyer said he and his client were concerned that the matter might dissuade people from openly sharing their thoughts in the future.

“There is no question,” he said, “that this kind of activity by law enforcement has a chilling effect on people expressing their genuine opinions about the department.”

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