AUGUSTA — More than 70 state lawmakers are urging Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck to put the chief of the state’s Capitol Police force on administrative leave and investigate his social media posts.

Chief Russell Gauvin, photographed shortly after he was hired as Capitol Police chief in 2006. Photo from Capitol Police Maine Facebook page

Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin apologized last week for the posts, which questioned the U.S. election results and the value of masks for COVID-19 prevention, and deleted the Facebook account they were associated with. But 71 lawmakers, including Speaker of the House Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, and Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said in a letter to Sauschuck on Monday that they are dissatisfied with that response.

“At this historic juncture in which there are viable, coordinated threats against lawmakers, we find Chief Gauvin’s comments reprehensible, and his apology utterly insufficient,” the letter reads. “We believe Police Chief Gauvin should be immediately placed on administrative leave while a full and transparent investigation takes place, and next steps are determined.”

The Democratic majority and assistant majority leaders in both the House and Senate were among the 70 Democrats in the House and Senate who signed onto the letter. Rep. Jeff Evangelos, an independent from Friendship, also signed. There are 186 lawmakers in the Maine House and Senate.

A copy of the letter also was sent to Gov. Janet Mills.

Messages left for Sauschuck’s public information officer, Mills’ press secretary and Gauvin were not returned Tuesday.

Gauvin apologized after a story published Friday by Mainer, a Portland-based alternative monthly print and online news organization previously known as The Bollard, detailed posts he made and published images of them online. According to the story, Gauvin, on his Facebook page, mocked the use of face masks to guard against spreading COVID-19 and shared a post that suggested masking was part of a bigger plot to control the public.

In November, he posted that he had “zero confidence” in the results of the election that saw Joe Biden defeat President Trump. He also shared a post that referred to the election as “a psychological operation of epic proportions.”

Gauvin’s posts were publicized as state law enforcement, including his agency, was heeding warnings from the FBI and preparing for potential violent assaults on the Maine State House on Sunday by extremist groups who embrace President Trump’s unfounded claims that he won the November election. The protests did not occur.

Gauvin has been chief of the Capitol Police since 2006. The 13-officer force is responsible for security at Maine’s State House and other state office buildings. He previously served as a police officer with the city of Portland, starting in 1980 and retiring as a captain in 2006.

Gauvin’s time on the Portland force overlapped with Sauschuck’s, who joined the department in 1997 and rose through the ranks to become chief in 2011. Sauschuck left to become Portland’s assistant city manager before joining Mills’ administration as commissioner of public safety in 2019.

According to the state’s online open records portal, Maine Open Checkbook, Gauvin was paid a salary of $90,000 in 2019 and his total benefit package, including retirement, health and life insurance, is valued at $112,418.

Mills and Sauschuck issued a statement after the Mainer story was published, saying Gauvin’s apology was “warranted.”

“He has assured us of his commitment to upholding his duties and responsibilities, regardless of any personal beliefs,” the statement read. “We are troubled and concerned by what we have read and have asked that the matter be reviewed through the existing personnel process to determine whether any state policies were violated.”

Jackson, the Senate president, and Fecteau, the speaker of the House, also issued a joint statement last week, saying they had “grave concerns” about Gauvin’s actions and urging an investigation into the situation.

In their letter Monday, the lawmakers told Sauschuck that Gauvin had undermined the public’s confidence in law enforcement during “perilous times.”

“The words of Police Chief Gauvin made in recent months and reported over several years have diminished our trust in his ability to serve in his current role,” the legislators wrote. “Many of us may never feel safe at the Maine State House facility again so long as Chief Gauvin is in charge of security or a member of the Capitol Police.”

State Rep. Kyle Bailey, D-Gorham, one of the lawmakers who signed the letter, said that both Sauschuck and Mills’ chiefs of staff had confirmed they had received the letter but did not provide any response to the lawmakers.

 

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