LEWISTON — Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant “absolutely” denies any suggestion that he sexually harassed employees or threatened anyone with termination in connection with any solicitation for sex, his attorney said Wednesday.
And, he is not considering stepping down from office, according to his legal counsel.
On Wednesday Gallant’s attorney, Jim Martemucci of Portland, said his client “absolutely” denies sexually harassing any employees of the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office. “He certainly absolutely denies threatening termination of any employee with respect to any type of sexual allegation or solicitation.”
Martemucci said Gallant, of Bethel, is eager to set up a meeting with county commissioners and their attorney, Bryan Dench, as soon as possible to “talk about this openly and make a joint decision about what is to be done about these allegations.”
The sheriff is under investigation by the Oxford County Commission after reports of two separate complaints of misconduct were made to the county, according to Ray Cote, business agent for Teamsters Local 340, a union that represents 23 sworn officers of the Oxford County Sheriff’s Department.
In one, Gallant is alleged to have sent multiple sexually explicit photographs of himself to a male deputy’s girlfriend and asked that Gallant, the deputy and the woman have sex. When the deputy rebuffed the offer, Gallant is accused of threatening his job, the business agent, Cote said.
In the second, Gallant is alleged to have a typed a message on a cellphone indicating he wanted to perform oral sex on a male employee, and then showed the person what he had typed, Cote said.
The sheriff has admitted to several news outlets that he sent sexually explicit photographs of himself — including one of him in uniform — several years ago to a woman, who he has refused to identify, and acknowledged the same to Oxford County commissioners during a budget meeting last week. He told commissioners sending the photograph “was an adult thing that happened two years ago.”
Martemucci said the photographs sent on Gallant’s private cellphone had nothing to do with subordinates in the Sheriff’s Office, and that the sheriff disclosed information about the photographs to commissioners himself so they wouldn’t be surprised by media reports.
At the time he disclosed the information to commissioners, the county had already begun its investigation, but Gallant has said he was not aware of the investigation.
When word broke of the sexting on Nov. 21, Gallant resigned as president of the Maine Sheriffs’ Association but has maintained his role as sheriff, working regular hours and performing duties as usual.
According to Martemucci, no one on the commission or in county administration has asked Gallant to resign from his post as sheriff, nor is the sheriff considering making that move now.
“He’s considering all his options,” Martemucci said, and “is anxious to find out the status of the investigation.” The attorney said Gallant will need to gather much more information about the investigation before he makes a decision about his status as sheriff.
First elected in 2006, Gallant, who is in his late 60s, is in his third four-year term as Oxford County sheriff and had served as president of the Sheriffs’ Association since January.
Cote said Wednesday that he brought the accusations of misconduct to the commission in early November and then “became so frustrated with the lack of action and lack of cooperation on this issue that I went to the media” last week.
“I was compelled to go public with what I knew, which is what I did,” he said.
Cote, who called Gallant’s actions “reprehensible,” said he’s aware of more instances of sexual misconduct than have been publicly reported, but declined to say how many or what they may involve.
“I’m afraid that too much news coming out about the investigation may dampen any inclination that somebody who has been involved in this will come forward,” Cote said. “It’s extremely embarrassing for someone to come forward and admit that they were sexually harassed. Who wants to admit that?”
Cote said he first learned of the allegations around the first of the month, and started asking around before making a formal complaint with the commission because “I just didn’t believe it.” Two weeks later, “somebody came forward and showed me these pictures,” and he contacted the union’s attorney to formalize action.
Under union rules, Cote has been present with employees as they are being interviewed as part of the investigation, but he declined to say what was discussed and could not say how much longer the investigation may continue.
As the process moves forward, Cote said, “I am hopeful there will be enough people who will step forward to bring forth a recommendation to the governor to remove the sheriff from office, because I don’t think he’ll step down voluntarily.”
Removal would be possible, under Maine law, if the commissioners filed a complaint with Gov. Paul LePage that details how the sheriff is not faithfully or efficiently performing his duties, and it would then be up to LePage whether to remove him from office.
Cote said, “There is no way to justify (Gallant’s behavior). I think he would be doing everybody a favor, himself included, if he stepped down. But I don’t expect that to happen.”
According to Martemucci, Gallant “respects Oxford County and he very much respects the Oxford County Sheriff’s Department and feels very badly that there is current negative publicity happening because of the allegations against him.”