Jonathan Sahrbeck is the Cumberland County District Attorney (D.A.). He reviews and prosecutes cases brought to his office by the police. Mr. Sahrbeck knows that U.S. laws and our criminal justice system can be confusing, and welcomes questions from the community. Please send your questions to: [email protected] and we will forward them.
What should I do/what should I not do if I am stopped by the police while I am driving? I hear all kinds of stories about police mistreating people of color.
I hear from many people who say they have had bad experiences in encounters with law enforcement, and I can assure you that the police hear about these experiences as well. I understand why people of color are nervous when they are stopped by the police. Police officers are taking steps to win back the trust of the public. In Cumberland County, police are now using body cameras and cruiser cameras. These cameras record interactions with the public, which increases safety and accountability during these interactions.
If you are stopped by the police while driving, my advice would be to pull your car over to the side of the road. As the police officer approaches, keep both hands on the steering wheel so that the officer can see your hands. Avoid any quick and sudden movements. Police officers should identify themselves and explain to you why they have stopped you. Try to answer any questions that the officer asks you, and follow their instructions. You have no obligation to allow an officer to search your car, but if asked you can allow them to search.
After your encounter, if you feel that something was wrong about your interaction with the police, or about why you were stopped, contact the non-emergency line of the police department and speak to somebody in the command staff about your interaction. These people should review your encounter, and listen to what you have to say. If you do not feel like you were heard, you have the right to contact your County District Attorney’s Office, any city/town official, and/or an attorney to request review of the matter.
I have been insulted by strangers when I am in public – making fun of my hijab, or telling me to “go back home.” What rights do I have when this happens?
The Maine Civil Rights Act protects all people living, working, or visiting in the State of Maine from harassment based on race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, physical or mental disability or sexual orientation. If a person experiences this type of harassment or insults against them based on their cultural clothing or natural origin, they have the right to contact their local police, the District Attorney’s Office, or the Office of the Attorney General (207-626-8800) to report such behavior. For more information about the Maine Civil Rights Act, please visit: https://www1.maine.gov/ag/civil_rights/faq.shtml
I am an asylum seeker from Angola. Are the police allowed to treat me differently than citizens, or do I have the same rights?
The police cannot discriminate against anyone based on national origin or immigration status. If you feel that you have received unfair treatment, contact the police department and ask to speak to a member of their command staff to report it. You can also call the District Attorney’s or a member of your local city or town government to inform them of these actions.
Jonathan Sahrbeck was born and raised in Cumberland County, and became the District Attorney in 2019, after working for many years as a prosecutor. He looks forward to working with community partners on addressing substance use and mental health issues, and on educating the public about the effects of adverse childhood experiences and trauma, and welcomes outreach.