PARIS — An Oxford County Sheriff’s deputy was fired Wednesday following an internal probe into a 2016 incident in which the deputy is alleged to have shot off the tip of his finger with his service weapon after spending most of St. Patrick’s Day drinking while off-duty.

Deputy Stephen Witham, the only deputy trained to handle the department’s K-9, was fired for the incident that occurred in March 2016, Sheriff James Theriault said.

Witham had been with the department since 2014.

Theriault said he plans to recommend the county disband the K-9 program for now. “It’s not the dog’s fault,” he said, “but I don’t feel that we can afford to train a new handler at this time.”

Witham received his K-9 certification in November through a program run by Lt. David Rackliffe of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.

When Witham was placed on paid administrative leave a little more than three weeks ago, Rackliffe took possession of the dog, named Samson, according to Theriault.

The dog remains in Franklin County.

Witham’s termination became official Wednesday when the Oxford County Commission voted unanimously to uphold Theriault’s decision to fire the deputy, and commissioners are in the process of drafting a final disciplinary letter detailing the grounds for termination. That letter will be available to the public when finalized.

According to Theriault, termination was based on a number of policy violations. “Some were serious and some weren’t as serious, but altogether we felt that it warranted the dismissal.”

In February, as part of an unrelated report, the Sun Journal asked for disciplinary records for all Oxford County patrol officers and received one for Witham dated Feb. 1, 2017.

That record, which was drafted by former Chief Deputy Hart Daley, detailed that Witham “failed to submit or complete police reports in general” and failed to timely complete a crash and criminal incident report for an accident that occurred on July 11, 2016 involving drugs, and after which a summons was issued.

The report wasn’t filed until Jan. 10, 2017.

According to county records, Witham’s “failure to complete and submit reports was discovered through a request for the crash report by a citizen/insurance company.”

As part of that discipline, Witham’s supervisors started monitoring his report writing on a weekly basis to ensure he completed reports on time.

Theriault said that incident was considered among the less serious policies and procedures Witham violated. “The more serious ones were actually from 2016, but they were not reported to us until May,” he said.

According to Theriault, the department has a 30-day policy for reporting violations and if anything is reported after 30 days it can not be investigated “and you can’t do anything about it.”

But, with Witham, the firearms incident in 2016 couldn’t be ignored.

Theriault said the incident was never fully substantiated when it occurred because the former sheriff, Wayne Gallant, who is now under investigation by federal authorities, failed to order his staff to do the proper follow-up and internal investigation.

“The administration at that time never did any reports or anything to that effect and the doctor said it didn’t look like it was a gunshot wound, but we have witnesses that heard the shot and he admitted to the weapon going off,” Theriault said.

A spokesman for the labor union that represents the deputy, however, has disputed the allegations and said they plan to file a grievance and take the firing to arbitration, if necessary.

“There was a quick investigation done and no evidence of a gunshot discharge or a wound was found,” said Ray Cote, business agent for Teamsters Local 340. “A member of the sheriff’s department went back to Deputy Witham’s home, found blood on the floor of the garage near the garage door, did not find a shell casing, powder burns or a bullet. There was nothing to indicate that he hurt himself with his gun.”

Cote said Witham reported the injury immediately and told his superiors that because of the amount he had to drink, Witham did not know for sure how he injured himself, and suggested that he may have caught the finger in the track of an overhead garage door. Cote said the sergeant on duty that night conducted a brief investigation, and it was determined the injury was not from a gunshot wound, and laid the decision not to investigate further at the feet of Gallant.

Since the injury, Witham has sought counseling for his drinking problem and has received positive performance reviews from his superiors, Cote said.

Theriault was appointed to serve as interim sheriff in February, three months after Gallant resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct involving subordinate employees.

Last November, Gallant admitted that he had sent a sexually explicit cellphone photo, taken at the sheriff’s office while he was in uniform, to a woman whom he has refused to identify. The same day, he stepped down from his position as head of the Maine Sheriffs’ Association, saying in a prepared statement that, by sending the photo, “I bring discredit to myself, to my uniform, my badge and the Maine Sheriffs’ Association.”

At the time, the sheriff was under investigation by the Oxford County Commission after reports of two separate complaints of misconduct were made to county officials.

In one complaint, 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 together. When the deputy rebuffed the offer, Gallant threatened his job.

In the second, Gallant is alleged to have 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.

Gallant has steadfastly denied that he sexually harassed any employee of the sheriff’s department or threatened anyone with termination in connection with solicitation for sex.

But, two weeks ago, during a hearing in the domestic violence assault case against Oxford County Deputy Brian Landis, who has been out on unpaid administrative leave since June 2017, Chief Deputy Christopher Wainwright testified under oath that Gallant had contacted Dawn Landis before, during and after her husband’s arrest, and that Gallant shared privileged personnel information about Brian Landis with her. According to Wainwright, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into Gallant’s contact with Dawn Landis, including whether he solicited sex from her and Brian Landis.

According to Maine Criminal Justice Academy records, Witham started his law enforcement career in Paris, where he worked as a part-time officer. In 2010, he was hired to work part-time for the Norway Police Department, eventually becoming a full-time officer. In May 2012, he was hired as a part-time officer at the Fryeburg Police Department, and become a full-time officer there in December of that year.

In May 2014, Witham graduated from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy and left the Fryeburg department in June to become a full-time deputy with the Oxford County Sheriff’s Department.

He remains employed as a part-time deputy with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.

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Portland Press Herald staff writer Matt Byrne contributed to this report. 

This photo of former Oxford County Deputy Stephen Witham was taken in November 2017 during a K-9 training session in Weld. The K-9 with Witham is Samson. (Facebook photo)

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