School daze redux
Toothaker vows to stay on school board after second arrest
By Chris Busby
Portland School Committee member Jason Toothaker’s arrest for ducking a cab fare this past weekend made big news today, as media outlets that all but ignore the school board suddenly found reason to cover one of its members.
The Bollard reached Toothaker, 24, by phone at his home today, where he was taking shelter from the crush of TV news reporters staking out his residence, and nursing injuries suffered during the incident and its aftermath.
Toothaker said he’d been at Amigo’s, an Old Port bar and restaurant, last Friday night, but remembers little of what transpired afterward. “I got pretty wasted,” he said. “I blacked out.”
Police reports indicate officers responded to a “person bothering” call involving Toothaker at Brian Ború, the Irish pub on Center Street, prior to his arrest later that night. Cops subsequently found him passed out in a backyard on Danforth Street, and it was from the corner of Danforth and High streets that Toothaker supposedly hailed a taxi for a ride home to Davis Street, in the Libbytown neighborhood.
Police reports indicate Toothaker fled the cab near Deering Oaks without paying the $4.65 fare. The cabbie called police, who allegedly chased Toothaker and later found him hiding under a porch on Park Avenue, where he was arrested.
“I don’t know what happened to make my face this bruised up,” said Toothaker, who also said his shoulder was injured that evening and may be broken. He planned to visit a hospital this evening. “Maybe the police did that,” he said. “Maybe they did what they had to do.”
If Toothaker did scuffle with police, it wouldn’t be the first time.
In October of 2001, Toothaker – then a 19-year-old University of Southern Maine student – was arrested by USM police “after he pulled a knife out during an argument with another student,” according to the police report. The student was cut when he attempted to grab the weapon from Toothaker, but was not seriously injured.
The report further states that Toothaker, who was intoxicated, tried to escape from the police car, and was “wrestling with the officer for about 10 minutes” before he was restrained and returned to the vehicle. The officer was not injured. Toothaker apparently broke free of his restraints again shortly before his arrival at the Cumberland County Jail, but was restrained once more and jailed for criminal threatening and attempted escape.
Those charges were dropped, said Toothaker, after he agreed to get behavioral counseling.
This reporter learned of this incident in 2004, the year Toothaker ran for and narrowly won his District 3 School Committee seat against opponent Julia Finn. Editors at the Portland Forecaster, where this reporter worked at the time, decided not to publish news of the arrest, in part because Finn was aware of it but was not making it an issue in the campaign.
In a story posted on the Forecaster‘s Web site today, dated Dec. 21, Finn has apparently taken the gloves off. “I think people are pretty outraged by his behavior,” she’s quoted as having told the community newsweekly. Other sources quoted in the same story say a petition to remove Toothaker from office via a citizen-initiated recall vote is already being circulated.
Toothaker is now in the last year of his three-year term on the board, his first stint in public office. Should he decide to run again, he’d be up for reelection next fall.
Though he’s been a fairly low-profile member of the board, Toothaker has been increasingly critical of what he’s called “partisan” decisions by Democrats on the Committee. [See our story “Utter partisan malarkey” for the latest example of this.] Toothaker is a registered member of the Green Independent Party, one of four Greens on the officially non-partisan nine-member board (the other five are all Democrats).
Toothaker said he has no intention of relinquishing his post. He has not been convicted of the misdemeanor theft-of-services charge he’s facing, and said he’s still considering his legal options. School board rules do not allow a member to be removed by the board for crimes less serious than felony convictions.
“I feel bad for what I did,” Toothaker said today. “It was a stupid mistake and unbecoming of me as a public official, but I’ll get through this and be a stronger person for it.”
“I don’t think anybody should be calling for my head over this,” he continued. “Sometimes the press like to really make things seem more insidious than they are.”
Toothaker, now a junior at USM, said he plans to get more counseling via the university as a result of this incident. “I apologize to the Portland community, to my fellow board members, and to school staff and students,” he said.
Superintendent Mary Jo O’Connor could not be reached for comment today.