Roberta and David Manter of Fayette hold a map of Maine with towns that have disputed roads marked. They are standing on Whitman Spring Road in Auburn, which they claim was closed by the city of Auburn without following proper procedures. Roberta Manter has been advising Neil Lanteigne on a longstanding dispute with neighbors over access to Finn Road in West Paris. Sun Journal photo by  Andree Kehn

 

WEST PARIS — A gate, fixed by a chain-link fence to two stone walls and plastered with “private property no trespassing” signs marks the property line between Neil Lanteigne of West Paris, and his neighbors, Peter and Deidre Binney and Linda and Michael Korhonen.

On March 20, that gate became the backdrop of a police operation. Officers from the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office with a warrant arrived on Lanteigne’s property to arrest him on charges of criminal trespassing and criminal threatening with a firearm.

Lanteigne fled on a snowmobile, hauling snowshoes, and fired shots. After a four-hour chase, he was captured, arrested and later released on $5,000 bail.

The incident was the boiling point of a property dispute on Finn Road that stretches back to the summer of 2015, when Lanteigne bought a second piece of property, contiguous to one he’s owned since 2010.

The public part of the road, described by Oxford County Chief Deputy James Urquhart as a cul-de-sac, ends where the town plows stop in front of the Korhonen property. The Binneys and Korhonens own the property on either side of the road leading up to the gate.

“If you’re looking at Neil’s property and looking south, the Korhonens own half of the gate and I own the other half of the gate,” Peter Binney said.

This gate stands at the center of a property dispute over access to Finn Road in West Paris, and has been the sight of frequent vandalism and confrontation among neighbors. Neil Lanteigne photo

Lanteigne has long maintained that the discontinued Finn Road is public, but the town of West Paris and a ruling in a civil lawsuit filed in 2017 between Lanteigne and his neighbors established that it is not.

“For whatever reason, he’s got it in his head that he wants another access point,” Binney said. “If it was landlocked, the argument would be a lot different. I’m not sure I would have taken such a hard stance on it if he had landlocked property, but he doesn’t. He’s got access (from Ellingwood Road in West Paris) with his contiguous property without trespassing on anyone’s land.”

NEIGHBORS DRAW THE LINE

Roberta Manter of Fayette established MaineROADWAYS after she and her husband had a dispute with a neighbor over a discontinued road. Since then, she’s become an expert on discontinued roads and road access rights. Manter said she first came into contact with Lanteigne when he bought his second piece of property in 2015.

According to Manter, Lanteigne bought property, in part, because of the presence of Finn Road. Manter said Lanteigne’s driveway was long, steep and nearly impossible to maintain in the winter. Finn Road provided a less severe access point.

Manter said the presence of a few old cellar holes — Lanteigne is interested in history — cemented his decision to buy the property.

But Lanteigne bought the property before consulting his neighbors, who later told him he couldn’t use the road, citing concerns of wearing it down through traffic. Manter said Lanteigne misread the situation and offered to subdivide the property, the logic being that more landowners could divide the cost of maintaining the road.

“That’s not the way to go about it,” Manter said. “These people wanted peace and quiet, and the last thing they wanted was a subdivision. I think they panicked, and went full-speed reverse at letting him in at all. By the time we got involved, things were already not good.”

According to Manter, Lanteigne thought the only way he was going to gain access to the road was by asserting himself, exercising what he called “civil disobedience,” and began regularly walking his dog down the road.

Binney said the neighbors felt unsafe.

“I’m talking scores of times: 2 o’clock in the morning, 5 o’clock in the morning, 4 o’clock in the afternoon, two pit bulls in hand, with his father, while we’re visiting with the Korhonens down there and his dog is lunging at us as we’re trying to chat and visit,” Binney said.

Manter said she’s met Lanteigne’s dogs and they are friendly, if overenthusiastic, pit bulls. And, she said, Lanteigne did not view his walks as trespassing.

“Neil’s side of the story is that he was walking by (at odd hours) because he didn’t want them to know when he was coming, because they were being confrontational and he was trying to avoid them,” Manter said. “He was trying to assert his right of being able to walk up and down. He bought the place out there because he was a bit of an eccentric and wanted to live out in the middle of nowhere and have nobody bother him.”‘

But his neighbors didn’t see it that way. Binney said the Korhonens, who declined to be interviewed for this story because of pending court actions, took the brunt of Lanteigne’s behavior.

“My house is back, a thousand feet from the road,” Binney said. “But the Korhonens are right there. They were dealing with 90 percent of his bullshit. But when I would see him, I would say, ‘Neil, you’re trespassing. Neil, you’re trespassing.’ That was pretty much the extent of my conversation. He would give me the finger and keep walking. The pressure was just building. He’s continuously doing this, flashlights into their house at night.”

In October 2015, a bad situation got worse.

A CASE FOR THE ROAD

A protection order against harassment, which the Korhonens brought against Lanteigne, was terminated when a judge found that the Korhonens couldn’t prove Lanteigne’s behavior rose to the legal definition of harassment or abuse.

Manter said she was in the courtroom when the judge terminated the order. She said the judge told both parties to go home and wait for the court to decide the status of the road.

“Neil managed to sit for maybe a week, and then he couldn’t resist going back and walking the road,” Manter said. “He thought he could walk up the side of the road, not even look at the side of the house, and mind his own business and he’d be OK, and he now had a court order saying that it was not harassment.”

According to Manter’s study of Lanteigne’s property, the town of Paris — before it was split into Paris and West Paris in 1957 — discontinued the road up to the Dean Farm, which lay on Lanteigne’s south property line to the West Paris town line, leaving a chunk of road in limbo. In 1965, the town of West Paris closed the road.

Manter said the town can’t just close a road. It can close for winter maintenance for up to 10 years, with the understanding that the closing is temporary.

The legal process of discontinuing a road involves a process of notification to property owners and hearings, determination of damages, and then a vote by the town, Manter said. She claims the town didn’t do all that and just voted on the issue on the 1965 town warrant.

Manter said Lanteigne, provided he went through the correct steps, could have a solid legal case.

But Binney — and the town — don’t see it that way.

INVISIBLE LINE

At a Sept. 24, 2015, West Paris selectmen meeting, Lanteigne told the board that it was his “right as an American to walk on any road with a public easement,” and that he had a right to “traverse the road beyond the gate.” He said selectmen “made no decision that would undo what has existed, which is that the road was discontinued and the roadway had reverted to the landowners.”

On Oct. 31, 2015, Lanteigne still thought the road was private. Manter said Lanteigne had been given a survey written by the previous owner of the Binney lot, and the survey said the road was maintained up to a stone wall at the Korhonens’ house.

Photos from a surveillance camera set up by the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office show Neil Lanteigne, 44, of Paris carrying rifles while walking with his dog on neighbor Peter and Deidre Binney’s property on March 6. Oxford County Sheriff’s Office photo

“Neil thought it was a public road, all the way up to the stone wall after the Korhonens’ house and became private after,” Manter said. He didn’t know that another town official had told Korhonen that the town only maintains up to a light pole in front of Korhonens’ house, and beyond that the road is private.

There was an invisible line in the sand. Lanteigne crossed it.

An altercation ensued and, when it was over, Lanteigne was charged with trespassing and Michael Korhonen was charged with assault.

Binney said the Korhonens got annoyed by Lanteigne’s constant trespassing, so they physically stopped him and sat on him until police arrived. Binney said he saw an ambulance at the scene of the alleged assault, but Lanteigne never entered it, and he disputes that Lanteigne suffered any substantial injuries.

Manter, who met with Lanteigne after the assault, said he had extensive injuries.

“Neil says they beat him, kicked him in the head, and sat on him, punched him, whipped the handle of a pistol across his skull, and said that they were going to shoot him and bury him in the swamp if he ever told anyone what had happened,” she said. “He was going to be a dead man. He was not to go to the town and ask for access, and not tell anybody.”

“When the police finally arrived, they handcuffed him and called an ambulance,” she said. “His father came to see him the next day, took him in, did not want to say exactly what had happened.”

According to her, Lanteigne suffered a black eye and a broken eye socket. Three or four ribs were broken and he had a broken vertebra and head injuries.

On Feb. 26, 2016, fire destroyed the Korhonens’ home. Their adult son had been staying with them and they were all able to get out of the house without injury.

According to Sun Journal archives, when Lantienge walked past the house fire, personnel reported hearing him say he was “taking my victory walk with my dog” and, “This is the happiest day of my life.”

LEGAL PRECEDENT SET

In 2017, Lanteigne filed a lawsuit in Oxford County Superior Court against Michael and Linda Korhonen and Peter and Deirdre Binney. In 2018, the court stipulated Lanteigne had no right to the “so called Old Finn Road in West Paris, Maine from the Paris-West Paris town line to the turn-around near the defendants Korhonen home at which point the accepted road commences and runs to the Forbes Road.”

But Manter said Lanteigne was frustrated with the wording of the stipulation. He had agreed to drop the suit and refile on different grounds, but the language of the order sounded final.

The law firm that represented Lanteigne did not respond to requests for information.

Instead of going through the legal steps of filing another case, though, Lanteigne again took to what he deemed civil disobedience.

“He finally got so frustrated because no one was listening to him,” Manter said. “The stipulation was done without his understanding, and he finally got to the point where he got to the edge and said, ‘The only thing I can do is try to assert my rights.’”

According to Binney, after the ruling the situation grew quiet. Lanteigne still fired shots on his property, but the trespassing lulled for a time.

Then, a new storm erupted.

THE ‘MAGNA CARTA’

In early February of this year, Lanteigne sent an email to the Paris Police Department, which he later forwarded to the Sun Journal, making a request for the trespass notice to be dismissed, terminated or amended “to allow me to use the road and the rangeways that cross through (the neighbors’) properties, so that I may access my properties.”

Lanteigne included a survey by JKL Land Surveying, recorded Jan. 25, 2019, with the Oxford County Registry of Deeds. But the company said the survey made no determination that Lanteigne had access to the road, and said that land surveys are never intended to trump previous legal precedents.

Neil Lanteigne had this property survey recorded with the Oxford County Registry of Deeds in January, but experts say the survey does not override a court ruling on property access.

Binney said Lanteigne incorrectly interpreted the survey results as permission to step foot on the road.

“We thought we got finality when the town deemed that there was no public easement, then all of a sudden he gins up a survey,” Binney said. “When he started doing his antics again in January, I couldn’t believe it. He was holding that up like the Magna Carta and running around like that gave him access.”

According to Richard Golden, the attorney who represented Peter and Deirdre Binney in the 2017 lawsuit, a survey doesn’t have the legal power to overrule the judgment of a lawsuit, and it could be too late for Lanteigne to dispute or overturn the matter in court.

According to Chief Deputy Urquhart, the Sheriff’s Office has attempted to work with Lanteigne to convince him to have the matter heard in court, but Lanteigne won’t do that.

“He does, however, send out random emailings and posts on his social media on how he’s been wronged and is the victim in all these cases, “Urquhart wrote in an email in response to questions from the Sun Journal. “There are clear boundaries outlined in the property and tax maps. The issue at hand is the road that runs through the properties was disbanded in the 1960s.”

OUT OF PROPORTION

Manter said the confrontation in 2015 left Lanteigne with an unshakable anxiety and the feeling that his side of the story isn’t being heard.

“He’s sure somebody’s trying to kill him,” she said. “It’s gotten out of proportion to what the actual danger is, but he is really afraid for his life. Whether he’s justified or not, he’s afraid they’re going to try and do him in. He decides, ‘The only thing I can do is assert my rights to that road, and I’ve got to take back my fears by going back to the place where I was beaten and walk through there, and the only way I can do that is if I arm myself.’ That is how we got to where things are now.”

In multiple emails sent to the Sun Journal, Lanteigne expressed fear for his life and great frustration that he’s been wronged by his neighbors and by the court.

Binney doesn’t think Lanteigne’s life is, or ever has been, in danger. But Binney said Lanteigne’s behavior has left his neighbors feeling unsafe.

“It felt like he was getting away with activity,” Binney said. “In some cases it was fairly benign trespassing, but in other cases it was him hacking branches and doing destructive things. It made us feel unsafe, him brandishing a gun. He confronted me with a gun.”

Binney said he and his wife are trying to enjoy their property.

“We have a snow machine trail that goes out around the property line and we have to decide whether or not we’re going to do it,” he said. “On one day, he’s standing on the property line, staring at us as we drive by, with an automatic rifle. I can’t enjoy part of my land because I got some guy who’s trying to intimidate me? It makes me feel frustrated.”

According to Binney, even if Lanteigne somehow has a legitimate claim to access Finn Road, he’s gone about proving it in a dangerous way.

Cameras set up by the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office show Neil Lanteigne trespassing on Peter Binney’s property on Finn Road in West Paris. Oxford County Sheriff’s Office photo

“There’s a right way and a wrong way to go about this, and he’s gone about it the wrong way, in my view,” Binney said. “I’m not disputing anything, I’m just trying to follow the facts as the town of West Paris defined it, and as the stipulation agreement defined it. If it went the other way, I would have had decided if I would get an attorney and fight it. It happened to go my way, and I’m just trying to follow the rules and the laws. He’s the one who’s not. He’s the one who’s taking the law into his own hands.”

On March 10, Binney called police to report he saw Lanteigne carrying a rifle while trespassing on his property. A couple of hours later, Linda Korhonen reported hearing at least six shots coming from Lanteigne’s property.

Over a period of days, police attempted to intervene, and even went to Lanteigne’s home on March 15 to negotiate with him, but according to police Lanteigne barricaded himself in his house and police left rather than force a standoff.

After Lanteigne continued to taunt his neighbors, including approaching them with his weapon drawn and sending one of his dogs to attack a neighbor at the disputed property line, Urquhart said, “We knew it was escalating to a point where we couldn’t do nothing. We had to do something.”

On March 20, deputies arrived at Lanteigne’s home with an arrest warrant charging him with criminal trespassing and criminal threatening with a firearm. Lanteigne fired six shots at police before fleeing on a snowmobile, armed with a rifle and a handgun.

He was apprehended after a four-hour chase on snowshoes through a remote, wooded area bordering the Binney and Korhonen properties.

Last month, Lanteigne was indicted by an Oxford County grand jury on charges related to that incident: possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon, threatening display of a weapon, trespassing and refusing to submit to arrest.

The firearm charge stems from a 1997 conviction for grand theft auto in Brevard County, Florida.

If convicted, Lanteigne could face up to five years in prison on the first two charges and one year in prison on each of the others.

Manter said that although she’s invested in Lanteigne’s situation, she can’t condone the way he’s gone about trying to prove his right to access the disputed property.

“We’ve provided counsel, and he hasn’t taken our advice in a lot of cases,” she said. “When we’ve said something that seemed to be an advantage, he’s taken the ball and ran with it in ways that we wouldn’t have told him to go.”