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Salem Budget Committee member Patrick McDougall listened to testimony during his trial on Monday in 10th Circuit Court in Salem. He is charged with obstructing government administration. (JAMES A. KIMBALL PHOTO))

Judge weighs verdict for Salem official

SALEM - Budget Committee member Patrick McDougall suggested on Monday that he was the target of political payback because he argued with firefighters late one night in June that his wife did not need an ambulance ride to the hospital despite her two calls to 911.

Judge Michael Sullivan began weighing whether McDougall, 37, who also sits on the town's zoning board of adjustment, is guilty of obstructing government administration after his day-long trial in 10th Circuit Court in Salem.

McDougall is accused of preventing emergency medical technicians from transporting his wife to the hospital after she called 911 around midnight on June 25. Jane McDougall acknowledged during her testimony that she called 911 a second time requesting an ambulance after firefighters had arrived at her home because her husband kept arguing with them.

Patrick McDougall faces up to a year in jail if he is convicted. But it's only the first of two cases now pending against the elected town official.

McDougall faces charges of felony witness tampering, criminal threatening and disorderly conduct for another run-in with the town's fire chief and a separate incident with a police officer days later. He is awaiting possible indictment in superior court in that case.

Prosecutor Jason Grosky called on firefighters and police officers who responded to McDougall's home and cast the elected town official as hot-headed and flippant when first responders arrived at his doorstep.

Defense lawyer Neil Reardon suggested that his client was a "thorn in the side" of Salem's police and fire departments, and a well-known critic of their budgets. In recent months, McDougall has even expressed a desire to privatize the town's ambulance service, according to Reardon.

But the reputed town critic drew his own rebuke from Judge Sullivan at the beginning of Monday's trial when McDougall exclaimed "that's a lie" in open court while a firefighter testified.

Firefighter Bradley Palmer said during his testimony that McDougall at first claimed there was no medical emergency in his building before closing his apartment door on the two firefighters. McDougall allowed firefighters into the apartment a few moments later after acknowledging that his wife called 911, according to Palmer's testimony.

"He didn't yell at us, but you could tell by his demeanor he was getting angry," Palmer testified.

McDougall's wife, Jane, broke down on the witness stand while testifying that while she was in extreme pain that night, her husband was only trying to explain their financial situation. She stressed during her testimony that her husband ultimately agreed to drive her to the hospital himself.

"He was explaining to them we didn't have any insurance," she testified. "He was trying to explain we couldn't afford an ambulance bill."

Grosky argued that while McDougall might have complained about getting whacked with a bill he couldn't afford, he wasn't any stranger to avoiding those charges in the past.

Fire Chief Kevin Breen testified that he assisted McDougall with getting a waiver on at least one ambulance ride sometime around 2007. "I personally guided him through that process in the past," Breen testified.

Police Officer Matthew Norcross testified that in his 19-year career he never brought the charge lodged against McDougall, but felt that a crime had been committed on the night he responded to the apartment.

McDougall was charged after Norcross researched the state law, interviewed witnesses and consulted with the department's prosecutor and superiors before requesting an arrest warrant, according to his testimony.

Norcross also testified that police stood by during the early morning hours of June 26 to make sure the McDougalls actually drove off toward the hospital with his wife after spending close to an hour at the home.

"He flickered his fingers toward us and said you're dismissed now, you can all go," Norcross testified. "He was being degrading and insulting with his behavior."

McDougall decided against taking the stand on Monday after huddling with Reardon at the defense table. Sullivan said at the close of Monday's trial he will take the case under advisement.

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