Constitutional action to remove sheriffs is rare


PARIS — The constitutionally controlled process of removing a Maine sheriff from office has been launched multiple times over the years, but in most recorded cases — as now with Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant — the sheriffs have resigned or complaints have been dismissed before a governor could take action.

The last time that a Maine governor removed a sheriff from his position was in 1926, when a Kennebec County sheriff was removed following allegations of breaking Prohibition law, according to Sun Journal archives.

In a Lewiston Evening Journal report dated April 1, 1926, Kennebec County Sheriff Henry F. Cummings was removed from his position by Gov. Ralph Brewster and his executive council after receiving complaints that Cummings was not upholding Prohibition laws.

Cummings had allegedly given away liquor to people during the Prohibition years, according to the archives, and defended his actions as reasonable because certain people needed the liquor.

Some years later, two consecutive Cumberland County sheriffs faced potential removal, according to Lewiston Daily Sun archives.

In 1951, Cumberland County Sheriff Phillip Dearborn was accused of not enforcing gambling laws and allowing illegal gambling houses to operate. He faced a removal hearing, but the case was dismissed by Gov. Burton Cross because of insufficient evidence.

In 1959, Dearborn’s successor, Allen H. Jones, faced a citizen petition from Cumberland County residents seeking his removal from office, citing a grand jury report that accused him and his deputies of gross negligence in the administration of the county jail in Portland.

Gov. Clinton Clauson never scheduled a removal hearing because the Attorney General’s Office at that time ruled that “gross negligence” was too broad of an accusation and that the petition should be ruled invalid.

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Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant addresses the media during a press conference at the Oxford County Jail in May 2017. (Sun Journal file photo)