By Marjorie Nesin
---- — Gloucester mayoral candidate Mac Bell was ordered in court this week to pay more than $1,000 restitution in a case that centers around a nearly 20-year dispute regarding a fence Bell twice removed from property abutting a Commercial Street building he owns.
Bell said Thursday that, under the supervision of hired police details, he had twice cut down the fences that residential neighbors to Bell’s Chamber of Commerce building had put up.
Still, Bell had pleaded not guilty to the charges of malicious property destruction and trespassing in a January 2012 arraignment in the case, saying the fence stood on property that belonged to neither he nor the neighbors.
A wooden fence now erected on the edge of Pascucci Court, which the city characterizes as a private way, stands at the edge of the Chamber building’s property line about 18 inches from the building, running parallel to a set of side doors on the building. The fence replaces the two others Bell had removed.
Though the case was set for trial in Peabody District Court, the parties resolved the situation before trial, with Judge Richard Mori ordering Bell to pay about $1,128 restitution for the pair of sawed down fences.
Mori also ordered Bell to stay away from the complainant, identified as Joseph Palmisano, and continued the case for nine months, according to Essex County District Attorney spokeswoman Carrie Kimball Monahan.
“If he complies with those orders and remains out of trouble for the period of nine months, then the case will be dismissed,” Monahan said.
The incident has not been Bell’s only brush with authority. In 2006, he also pleaded guilty to negligent driving on a charge amended downward from an allegation of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon – his truck.
He also pleaded guilty to resisting arrest and disorderly conduct in that case, but three counts of assault and battery on a police officer were dismissed.
In that incident — on the one-year anniversary of his wife’s death, according to the Times story at the time — Bell was accused of striking a police officer with his vehicle, and police had to use pepper spray to take him into custody.
Bell said Thursday he agreed to settle the fence case before the trial to avoid additional confrontation.
“It’s confrontational and frankly, I’m basically always in favor of positive neighbor relations,” Bell said.
Gloucester-based attorney Michael Faherty represented Bell’s property neighbor Joseph Palmisano in the criminal complaint Palmisano filed against Bell in October of 2012.
Bell said he had wanted to use the now fence-blocked door for ventilation in a back room of the Chamber building that has no openable windows. He also had considered the doorway, which opens from Bell’s Compass Realty, a fire exit, he said. Now plywood blocks off the door from the inside and the fence from the outside.
Fire Inspector Phil Bouchie, in an Aug. 13 email responding to an inquiry “of public safety due to the blockade of the door onto Pascucci Court,” said the doorway would provide emergency personnel with an “advantage” in a rescue situation. Bouchie listed safety tactics that would benefit from the doorway.
“Should there be a fire in that specific room that entrance could be used to quickly attack that fire,” Bouchie wrote. “In the case of a medical emergency in that same room, an ambulance could simply pull up to that door, enter and begin treating the patient.”
With the judge’s ruling, the door will remain closed — and fenced.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.