LePage’s drug arrest photo binder undermines 90% black, Hispanic claim

Gov. Paul LePage. (BDN file photo)

Gov. Paul LePage. (BDN file photo)

More than half of the photographs filling a binder that Gov. Paul LePage cited as supporting a claim that upward of 90 percent of suspects arrested in Maine on opiate-trafficking charges are out-of-state “black and Hispanic people” are instead of white drug defendants.

The Republican governor’s office released the 148-page file on Monday after public access requests from the Bangor Daily News and other media outlets. The American Civil Liberties Union called it “an incomplete collection of newspaper clippings and emails” used “to make false, inaccurate accusations about people of color.”

But the binder alone doesn’t prove LePage’s point: Of 93 pictures of people arrested for drug crimes in it, 57 are apparently white, according to a BDN count.

The binder also showed that LePage was interested in tracking down photos of many of the defendants. One handwritten note asked staff to "file pictures" from a Brewer meth lab arrest in May "in my binder for historical value." Before the words "historical value," the word "poster" was written and crossed out.

LePage has stoked outrage twice this year with racial comments on drugs, first in January, when he said that out-of-state drug dealers come to Maine and impregnate "young, white" women before leaving.

Then, in August, he said the binder showed that more than 90 percent of drug traffickers arrested in Maine “are black and Hispanic people from Waterbury, Connecticut, the Bronx and Brooklyn.” After state Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, criticized those comments, the governor left him a profane voicemail.

Maine's drug crisis is peaking, with overdoses killing 189 people in the first half of 2016, putting the state on pace for a record high, fueled by heroin and fentanyl, an opioid often mixed with or presented as heroin.

And on Monday, the Maine Department of Public Safety said while overall crime went down in 2015, more than 5,900 people were arrested for drug violations, a total that was slightly up from the previous year.

An "increase in out of state drug dealers" was cited by the department, but it said in August that it doesn't track the races of people charged with drug crimes.

Gangs have been cited as a major piece of Maine's heroin crisis, but data provided in August by the Maine Department of Corrections said 70 percent state prison inmates convicted of any type of drug trafficking self-report as white.

In an email, LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said "this is about out-of-state accused drug traffickers," saying the administration "will move forward as it has in the past pertaining to policy."

ACLU of Maine Executive Director Alison Beyea said in a statement that "whether or not" LePage's claims "were deliberately misleading, they were dangerous and racist."

"The governor has multiple agencies at his disposal that collect arrest data in Maine," she said. "It is outrageous that he would rely on an incomplete collection of newspaper clippings and emails to make false, inaccurate accusations about people of color."

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.