, Newburyport, MA

April 6, 2013

Former sewer boss not guilty of assault

Judge rules Knowles acted in self-defense

By Angeljean Chiaramida

---- — SEABROOK — The former superintendent of the town’s sewer department charged with assaulting one of his employees was found not guilty this week by a judge who ruled his actions were in self-defense.

Warner Knowles, 68, of 27 Pickens Ave., Seabrook, was tried for the class B misdemeanor simple assault charge last week before Seabrook Circuit Court Judge Mark Weaver.

The charges stemmed from an April 19, 2011 confrontation between Knowles and Nathaniel Maltais, 22, who at the time was a part-time laborer for the sewer department. Maltais is the son of wastewater treatment plant operator Philippe Maltais.

According to the six-page Order of Trial issued by Weaver with his ruling, Nathaniel Maltais charged that Knowles grabbed him by the throat and pushed him up against the wall during a disagreement while at a job at the Yankee Fisherman’s Cooperative. However, Knowles testified that he acted in self-defense when he grabbed Maltais by the collarbone and pushed him up against the wall.

Weaver wrote that after hearing testimony from Knowles and the four witnesses that the Seabrook police prosecutor placed on the stand, he found Knowles not guilty under the justification of self-defense.

Weaver said he found Knowles’ claim of self-defense “to be more credible” than Maltais’ claim of assault based on testimony relating to Maltais’ behavior and body positions during the altercation as well as other comments he made.

In his ruling, Weaver noted what he believed to be Maltais’ disrespectful behavior toward Knowles.

“(Maltais) later told the town’s investigator that he was more qualified than the defendant (Knowles) for the defendant’s job, and he said that he wanted the defendant to retire,” Weaver wrote. “Taken with his earlier comment ... these actions all show a lack of respect for the defendant that is consistent with his behavior on the job site on April 19.”

Weaver wrote that based on the trial testimony, bad feelings between the two men began prior to the April 19 incident when Knowles overheard Maltais make a disrespectful remark after the former sewer superintendent reprimanded him and another sewer department worker.

Charges against Knowles were initially dropped because Maltais was away for six months and unable to testify. However, prosecutor Scott Mendes re-instated the charges in July following Maltais’ return.

A day after the alleged incident, Knowles was placed on paid administrative leave by then-Town Manager Barry Brenner. Knowles, a 39-year veteran town employee, earned a salary of $68,608 in 2011, according to the town report. In August 2012, however, Interim Town Manager Joseph Titone announced Knowles no longer worked for the town, without citing why.

Knowles and Titone could not be reached for comment on the verdict and its ramifications.