Sex offender’s job at Cumberland church with day care facilities raises alarm
By Eric Russell
Portland Press Herald
October 8, 2018
|The pastor of a Cumberland church says Eugene Weir, above, has earned the respect of the congregation in the nearly 20 years since his release from prison. But his nighttime cleaning job has become an issue because of two day cares located in the church.|
Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette
But some urge fairness for night custodian Eugene Weir, a man 'who has paid his debt.'
Eugene Weir is content to live his life quietly.
Being the only registered sex offender in a suburban town of about 8,000 people, though, that isn’t always possible.
Weir was convicted in 1990 of sexually assaulting three relatives between the ages of 4 and 7 and spent nine years in prison. When he was released, he returned home to Cumberland to live with his mother, who needed his help running her farm.
Townspeople didn’t like it. More than 100 of them attended a meeting to express their concerns. About an hour into that meeting, something extraordinary happened. A man who was sitting in the back stood up and walked to the front of the room.
“I’m Eugene Weir,” he said.
Weir addressed their concerns. He didn’t ask for their forgiveness or pity. He just wanted to tell them he wasn’t a threat.
“I realize I am a burden to the community,” he said at the time. “I hope to become an asset.”
For nearly 20 years, Weir has receded, almost forgotten, into the community. But recently, he stirred up concerns again – this time over his part-time janitorial job at the Congregational Church in the center of town.
Weir has been a member of the church since his release from prison and considers it a therapeutic place. The pastor, the Rev. Diane Bennekamper, described Weir as a polite, quiet man who always takes extra care not to sit or be near children in church. He sings in the church choir and has blended in with the rest of her congregation, earning their trust and respect, she said.
Last year, Bennekamper asked him if he would be interested in taking on some part-time custodial duties to fill in for the church’s regular, part-time custodian, who is a lobsterman during the summer months. Weir accepted.
He only worked on nights and weekends.
It wouldn’t have been a problem, except that the church is home to not one but two child care facilities. It also happens to be close to all three of the town’s schools, including the elementary school. On a recent weekday, a parent who recognized Weir’s vehicle saw it in the church parking lot. The parent went to church officials, who confirmed that Weir did indeed work there.
Bennekamper said she didn’t alert anyone because she didn’t think she needed to. Maine law does not restrict where sex offenders can work, as long as the offender doesn’t have any bail restrictions. Weir doesn’t, but Bennekamper consulted with the Maine Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Health and Human Services anyway.
They ended up suggesting drafting an agreement that prohibits him from working or being at the church between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays when the two day care programs are in session. By signing, Weir surrendered his right to participate in a church Bible Study class, the Christmas Fair Committee, and Aging in Place – programs that occur during those hours.
Bennekamper then held a meeting last week with parents of children who attend the private day care located at the church, the Cumberland Community Nursery School. About 25 parents attended. On the same day, church officials notified parents whose children attend the other day care, Main Street Community Center, which is affiliated with the church.
The director of the Cumberland Community Nursery School could not be reached last week for comment. No one answered the door on two separate occasions and a phone number listed for the center was not accepting phone calls.
Susan Novak, who directs the church day care, said she feared Weir might be fired.
“He’s not a threat to anyone,” she said.
Cumberland Police Chief Charles Rumsey agreed that Weir has not been a threat. He said his department has received calls from three parents about Weir’s employment at the church, but the chief has explained to parents that the man is not violating any laws or conditions of his release from prison.
“He is still a U.S. citizen who has paid his debt,” Rumsey said. “I empathize with the parents that have concerns, but we still need to treat him respectfully, too.”
Rumsey said none of the parents who contacted police wished to be identified or speak with the media. One person contacted the Press Herald anonymously last week and expressed concern that church officials did not disclose Weir’s employment right away and did so only after someone saw his car.
Novak said no one was trying to hide anything, though. Weir was never there during business hours and didn’t interact with children. She said no parent expressed concern to church officials after notices were sent.
Bennekamper said she does not plan to remove Weir from his part-time position and hopes the community sees him as she does.
“I see no reason why we shouldn’t give him a small amount of work,” Bennekamper said, citing his devotion to the church and to staying out of trouble for nearly two decades.
Weir did make a mistake, though, when he took the job. He failed to notify the state about his new employment, which was a violation of his sex offender registry requirements. He spent a week in jail for that violation but says it was an honest mistake.
Chief Rumsey said he has a zero-tolerance policy on such violations and had to charge Weir with failing to comply with the sex offender registration act, but he also said he believes that the man wasn’t trying to hide anything.
Weir has had no other run-ins with police in the 19 years since his release from prison. His mother died in 2007, but he still works at the farm and sells vegetables at two farmers markets. He volunteers at the Preble Street Resource Center in Portland, too.
Weir realizes that his actions will always be scrutinized and knows there will always be people who are uncomfortable that he lives among them.
“I understand that and don’t hold any ill will toward them,” he said last week at his home.
Weir said he underwent extensive treatment while he was incarcerated. Although he doesn’t see himself as a threat to anyone, he also doesn’t feel comfortable forgetting what he’s done.
“I don’t hide who I am … mostly because of my victims,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to think I’m minimizing what I did.”