UPDATE: The election warden who turned the officer away has been fired, and the Bangor police chief has stated at a press conference that officers are not required to surrender their weapons at the polls.
BANGOR, Maine — In the 18 years that he has been a police officer in Bangor, James Dearing couldn’t think of a single time when someone has asked him to turn over his firearm.
Until last Friday.
Dearing, who was patrolling his assigned beat near the Bangor Civic Center, decided to stop in and cast an early vote. He walked into the polling place in full uniform and stood in a short line with other voters.
One of the election officials told Dearing he couldn’t bring his gun inside. The officer said he thought it was a joke.
Election warden Wayne Mallar then approached Dearing and reiterated the request: Turn over your weapon to another officer or we can’t let you vote.
“I would never relinquish my weapon,” the officer said later.
Mallar stood his ground.
The officer said he left the civic center Friday feeling embarrassed and insulted. Dearing posted details of the incident on his Facebook page late Friday and immediately began receiving strong responses.
“One fellow officer, who is stationed in Iraq, said ‘What am I over here fighting for?’” Dearing said.
The incident bothered the officer enough to draft a letter to Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, which the officer also provided to the Bangor Daily News. In it, Dearing writes that Mallar claimed he would be violating state law by allowing the officer to vote with his weapon holstered.
“Mallar claims that this was a state of Maine law, however, I cannot find such a prohibition listed in Title 21-A,” Dearing’s letter read. “Furthermore, many members of the police department and I have been casting ballots at the polls for many years in full uniform and have never been required to remove our firearms.”
Reached by phone on Sunday, Dunlap said he had not yet seen Dearing’s letter but said there is no state law that says officers are prohibited from carrying firearms anywhere. The secretary of state could not remember a similar complaint in recent years.
“Most of the complaints we get are from people concerned about candidates stationed outside the polls and over-aggressive petitioners,” Dunlap said.
Mallar said Sunday that he couldn’t comment on what happened other than to say, as warden, he is in charge of a polling place and has the right to make determinations about safety.
Dearing flipped the safety question around.
“What if someone else had come in with a gun concealed? Then I wouldn’t have my gun to protect people and do my job,” he said.
The officer said he doesn’t want Mallar fired. Dearing just wants the warden to admit he made a mistake.
And he wants to cast his vote.