AUGUSTA — A hearing officer and a process to consider the complaint of the Oxford County Board of Commissioners seeking removal of Sheriff Christopher Wainwright has been established.

According to a news release from Gov. Janet Mills’ office, the governor signed an executive order Friday morning appointing former Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Donald G. Alexander as the hearing officer who will oversee a public hearing on the complaint.

The complaint, sent to the governor Wednesday, seeks Wainwright’s removal after Oxford County Commissioners David Duguay of Byron, Timothy Turner of Buckfield and Steven Merrill of Norway found that he has “failed to faithfully and efficiently perform the duties of his office and improperly exercised and acted outside of his legal authority.”

They came to this conclusion following a number of investigations into Wainwright’s conduct, including Wainwright’s decision in 2020 and 2021 to dispose of dozens of firearms from the department’s evidence room without the knowledge of county officials and outside their financial scrutiny.

The guns were sold on credit, allowing the sheriff to purchase firearms for the county without a paper trail.

The Oxford County Administrator’s Office has no record of the sales, former County Administrator Donald Durrah said last year.


In an email last week, Wainwright defended his actions to sell the firearms, saying the majority of firearms removed for disposal or destruction in 2021 were weapons used in the commission of a crime or involved in a traumatic event, and that the sales allowed him to purchase equipment for the Sheriff’s Office, saving taxpayers money.

Commissioners have since changed the purchasing policy to prevent such a transaction from happening again.

In addition to the firearms sales, commissioners based their request on Wainwright’s decision to allow two school resource officers to carry guns in schools last year, even though their certification as law enforcement officers had expired.

Last May, Wainwright was reprimanded  after he asked a deputy to go easy on an acquaintance of Wainwright’s for a traffic citation the deputy issued, and then Wainwright overstated his authority when the deputy reported Wainwright’s reaction to his supervisor.

At the time, Wainwright offered an apology, admitting that he “overstated his authority as sheriff and using inappropriate language,” and admitted he violated Maine’s Law Enforcement Code of Ethics by asking the deputy to show favor to someone.

The commissioners’ decision to ask for Wainwright’s removal was made Jan. 16 and they finalized the wording of the complaint Wednesday.


In a statement issued in support of their decision, commissioners said that “over the course of Sheriff Wainwright’s tumultuous tenure, the Oxford County commissioners have spent an inordinate amount of time dealing with, mitigating and resolving mistakes made and crises generated by Sheriff Wainwright’s failure to efficiently and faithfully perform his duties and where he has acted outside of his lawful authority and contrary to Oxford County policies. Those mistakes and crises have cost Oxford County tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars and hundreds of hours that could have been better spent on projects that would benefit all of Oxford County’s citizens.”

And, they wrote, these issues “have also been a negative distraction from the duties of Oxford County government and have contributed toward morale, turnover and staffing challenges in the Oxford County Sheriff’s Department.”

According to the governor’s executive order:

• The sheriff must be provided an opportunity to submit a written answer to the complaint.

• Alexander, after conferring with the commissioners and the sheriff, will issue a procedural order governing the hearing process that will provide appropriate protection to the rights and interests of the parties.

• Alexander will provide a written report to the governor and make a recommendation based on the evidence presented at the hearing and through documentation.


In addition to setting the hearing process, the governor’s order also states that “if the hearing officer determines that the evidence presented constitutes probable cause of criminal activity, he shall make such reports as he deems appropriate to law enforcement for further investigation.”

And, if the hearing officer “determines that the evidence presented raises substantial questions about the professional conduct of any member of law enforcement, he shall make such reports as he deems appropriate to the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.”

Only the governor may remove an elected sheriff from office, under the state’s Constitution, “upon complaint, due notice and hearing” if she finds the sheriff “is not faithfully or efficiently performing any duty imposed on the sheriff by law.”

Alexander’s recommendation will be advisory, which means Mills will make the final decision, consistent with Maine’s Constitution.

If the governor decides to remove Wainwright she will appoint an interim sheriff to serve until the next scheduled election.

In a statement Wednesday, hours before the commission voted to send the complaint to the governor, Wainwright said, “As a matter of public record, I have acknowledged the mistakes that I have made while in office and apologized for same as appropriate. But let me be clear, there is nothing about my conduct in office, personally or professionally, that merits my removal. I remain eager to engage the process of review with a neutral arbitrator of fact and law — the governor.”


Wainwright, who remains on duty, said he welcomed the governor’s scrutiny and pledged to continue to carry out his duties and obligations of the office, to employees of the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office, “the electorate, and others in a dignified and professional manner, by not publicly commenting on shameful mischaracterizations of my time in office outside the process to be determined by the governor.”

Alexander, who has accepted the governor’s appointment, said in the statement that Mills “has entrusted me with significant responsibility to give the parties a full and fair hearing, develop the facts, and prepare a thorough report to provide the information the governor needs to fulfill her constitutional responsibility.”  He said he looks “forward to meeting with the parties and working cooperatively to have a hearing and then prepare an advisory report to the governor reasonably promptly.”

When Alexander retired from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in 2020, he was the longest-serving active justice in Maine history.

The hearing schedule will be announced once Alexander sets the date and time. After the governor has announced her decision on the request to remove Wainwright, Alexander’s report will become a public document.

Wainwright, who resides in Canton, has worked for the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office for more than 30 years, beginning at age 19 as a patrol deputy. He was first elected sheriff in 2018 and won reelection to another four-year term in 2022 by 344 votes over Oxford County Lt. Justin Brown, 13,521 to 13,177.

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