Last Wednesday, I pulled up to Stephen Ricci’s house at 915 Brighton Avenue in Portland to find out if he’s as dangerous as police say he is.
You may have heard Mr. Ricci’s name in the news. Originally charged with indecent conduct in August of 2007, Ricci ignited public controversy last year when he threatened to rape and mutilate a woman upon his release from jail unless he got the mental care he said he needed. Governor John Baldacci’s office ultimately intervened and Ricci was hospitalized.
Ricci was the subject of a recent police bulletin distributed to neighbors and emailed to all USM students. According to the bulletin, the community should be afraid of Ricci:
“Maine law does not require Ricci to register as a sex offender; however, the Portland Police Department believes that the circumstances and patterns of his violations warrant a community notification. Based upon his history Mr. Ricci is thought to be a high risk to re-offend.”
I’m not saying Ricci isn’t dangerous, and I wouldn’t encourage young girls to visit his house, but blacklisting a mentally handicapped man as a dangerous rapist – even though he was never charged as one – is reprehensible. Ricci was never convicted of a crime requiring registration as a sex offender, but Portland police have publicly outed him as one.
Americans have a long history of suspending personal liberties out of fear; Stephen Ricci is the most recent local example. I’d like to think Portland is a liberal, forgiving place where citizens are innocent until proven guilty. But the shunning and public shaming of Steven Ricci has proven me wrong.
After reading news stories and court documents, the initial impression of Ricci is that he is a deeply disturbed and dangerous man. He “roughed-up” a prostitute after she declined to let him go further than second base, according to court documents, and attempted to lure an underage girl into his car after she got off a school bus. When police arrested him for violating probation in December of 2007, it took four officers to bring him down, according to court documents.
Even Ricci’s mugshot – which is plastered all around campus – exudes menace: with the bewildered look of a stunned animal, he appears both scary and child-like.
So when I knocked on his front door, it was with no small amount of trepidation. The lights were out in his house and a window on the building’s south side had been broken. He opened the door slowly, peeking out suspiciously from the dark entryway. When he stepped into the light, he looked totally different from his mugshot. Dressed in a Bill Cosby sweater and khakis, partially bald with a shock of unkempt brown hair, Ricci didn’t strike me as dangerous. He looked scared.
I identified myself as a reporter with The Free Press, but before I could ask him anything, he shook his head and said “no comment,” in a labored stutter, then shut the door.
This is the point when my blood pressure normally rises and I knock harder, stick my foot in the door to demand a comment. I have never been reticent or scared to interview anyone and being turned down for an interview normally emboldens my cause. But in this case, I actually pitied him. After hearing him stutter and seeing the scared look in his eyes I decided not to press him. I also couldn’t be sure he was capable of understanding my questions.
I won’t glorify him as a victim of the establishment or invite him over for dinner, but I also refuse to publicly flay him as a pervert. I’ve decided to leave the man alone.
I slowly stepped off the porch into the drizzle, glancing back to see if he was watching me, but his windows were too dark to see inside.