LEWISTON — Gov. Janet Mills has scheduled a public hearing for April 22 to take up the Oxford County commissioners’ request to remove Sheriff Christopher Wainwright from office.

Oxford County Sheriff Christopher Wainwright. File photo

Commissioners made the unanimous request in February in a letter to the governor, citing specific examples of Wainwright’s past actions, including disposal of dozens of firearms from the department’s evidence room without the knowledge of county officials and outside the financial scrutiny of those officials.

The commissioners have no authority to suspend or fire Wainwright, who was first elected sheriff in 2018. Maine’s Constitution dictates that only the governor has that power.

The letter of complaint was sent to the governor following months of investigation by the commission.

Very soon after receiving the complaint, Mills appointed former Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Donald G. Alexander to oversee a public hearing on the complaint.

On Wednesday afternoon, Wainwright issued a formal response to the commissioner’s complaint. The response provides Wainwright’s explanations and observations for each claim made against him in the complaint.


According to an announcement about the hearing date, which is scheduled to go from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at a location yet to be determined in Augusta, commissioners and Wainwright will each be given the opportunity to make opening and closing statements of up to 10 minutes each. The hearing will be open to the public and recorded.

If a second day of hearing is needed, that is scheduled for April 24.

After the hearing, Alexander will provide a written report to the governor and make an advisory recommendation based on the evidence presented at the hearing and through documentation, after which Mills will make her decision.

The commissioners’ detailed 10-page complaint, which Chairman David Dugay of Byron said was not made lightly, includes dozens of pages of investigative records, some of which have been redacted. It also contains a short summary of the commissioners’ decision, that “it is the belief of the Board (of Commissioners) that Sheriff Wainwright has proven himself unworthy of the Office of Sheriff. Whatever his intentions, there can be no excuse for his repeated lack of diligence and judgment, and violations of law and County policies.”

Commissioners believe Wainwright “failed to faithfully and efficiently perform the duties of his office and improperly exercised and acted outside of his legal authority,” according to the complaint. “There is no room in the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office for a sheriff who places himself above the policies that he is charged with administering, above the ethical responsibilities that he swore an oath to uphold, and the laws that he is charged with enforcing. No one is unaccountable,” the complaint says.

Commissioners also based their decision to ask for Wainwright’s removal on the belief that, according to the motion made to request his removal, he “failed to faithfully and efficiently perform the duties of his office and improperly exercised and acted outside of his legal authority.”


They also noted that their investigation into Wainwright’s actions cost Oxford County taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars that could have gone to projects more beneficial to those taxpayers.

Wainwright has complained multiple times that commissioners have not turned over records he has asked for during their investigation, and said he welcomes the governor’s scrutiny.

In a public statement issued after the governor announced she had received the complaint, Wainwright wrote that, “As a matter of public record, I have acknowledged the mistakes that I have made while in office and apologized for some 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.”

In 2020 and 2021, Wainwright sold firearms from the evidence room and received credit for those purchases, without the knowledge of county officials. The Oxford County Administrator’s Office has no record of the sales, former County Administrator Donald Durrah said last year.

In an email to the Sun Journal sent after the complaint was in Mills’ hands, 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 Wainwright’s response to complaints about his handling of firearms from the evidence room, the sheriff detailed county policy on the matter while insisting that his actions were in keeping with those policies.

“Here, between May 2020 and September 2021, in keeping with the historical practices of the OCSO, Sheriff Wainwright engaged the services of a federally licensed firearms dealer to trade-in aging department-issued firearms, firearms in the custody and control of the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office, as well as miscellaneous firearms parts, to offset the County’s cost of modernizing department-issued weapons,” according to Wainwright’s answer to the complaint. “Sheriff Wainwright identified and negotiated with three licensed firearms dealers to determine who could facilitate the entirety of the transaction: the trade-in of aging, old and broken firearms and the acquisition of new department-issued firearms.

“Among those that were able to facilitate the entirety of the transaction, he queried further to negotiate a complete transaction that would yield the best outcome for the the Inhabitants of Oxford County, i.e. the taxpayers. Sheriff Wainwright did not benefit financially — directly or indirectly — from these transactions.

“Sheriff Wainwright selected the licensed firearms dealer who was able to facilitate the entirety of the transaction, offered the greatest ‘trade-in allowance,’ and procure new service weapons (for) OCSO law enforcement personnel, who then took possession of the aging, old and broken firearms that were in the custody and control of the OCSO.

“The licensed firearms dealer gave the County (not the OCSO) credit, i.e. a ‘trade-in allowance,’ for the aging, old and broken firearms toward the purchase of new department-issued firearms, and then facilitated the acquisition of the new firearms directly from the manufacturers.”

In addition to the firearms sales, commissioners are basing 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.


Wainwright’s response on Wednesday sought to clarify that matter, as well. According to the document, a pair of school resource officers hired in 2018 had their credentials lapse because the former sheriff apparently did not submit notices of hire to the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.

“Sheriff Wainwright, through the efforts of his Chief Deputy, discovered that while the SROs had continued to attend required in-service trainings and believed themselves to be fully credentialed law enforcement officers, the MCJA records did not agree,” according to the sheriff’s response to the complaint. “Sheriff Wainwright, his command staff, and the 2018 SROs immediately initiated the process, with the MCJA, to get the 2018 SROs re-certified as law enforcement officers.

“During the recertification process,” the response continues, “the 2018 SROs learned that they would not be allowed to complete the final phase of re-certification without a ‘notice of hire.’ This was the first instance that current OCSO leadership learned that the statutorily required ‘notices of hire’ were never filed, with the MCJA, when the County hired the SROs in 2018. Sheriff Wainwright’s command staff searched the limited departmental records that were available but were never able to locate ‘notices of hire,’ for the 2018 SROs, and thus, worked with the MCJA to ascertain what would be required and/or acceptable to resolve the absence of the 2018 ‘notices of hire.’”

That matter was later resolved when Wainwright and the two officers in question met with the MCJA.

The third situation noted in the commissioners’ motion to seek Wainwright’s removal is tied to the commissioners’ investigation in November 2023 that Wainwright asked one of his deputies to go easy on a woman who had received a traffic citation.

In response to that finding, Wainwright had offered an apology, admitting that he “overstated his authority as sheriff and using inappropriate language” in anger when instructing the deputy not to issue the ticket. He also admitted he violated Maine’s Law Enforcement Code of Ethics by asking his deputy to show favor to someone, and assured the public that he was seeking management training classes.


In his response on Wednesday, Wainwright expanded on the circumstances surrounding that complaint.

“On September 24, 2022, Sheriff Wainwright attended a charity event for a community member suffering from terminal cancer,” according to the response. “While there he overheard the woman’s sister describe an encounter with a new OCSO deputy, while enjoying a day of distraction with her sister, that resulted in receiving a ticket of some kind. Sheriff Wainwright recognized this woman as a former high school classmate of his brother. She did not approach Sheriff Wainwright and certainly did not ask for his assistance, directly or indirectly.

“In early November 2022,” the response continues, “Sheriff Wainwright saw the Deputy working at a local football game. Sheriff Wainwright approached the Deputy and relayed the details of the two sisters situation, what he overheard at the charity event, highlighted that he did not even know the status of the ticket, e.g. what the ticket was for, whether it had already been resolved or not, but asked the Deputy: ‘Given the circumstances, if it does go to court and if there is anything you could do, he would appreciate it.’

“That was the sum of the conversation and the end of Sheriff Wainwright’s interest in the matter. Sheriff Wainwright does not dispute having that conversation, the contents thereof, or the rationale behind the conversation with the Deputy. Where the dispute lies is in the events that followed and their proximity to Election Day, during a very competitive contest for the Sheriff’s Office.”

Wainwright lives in Canton and has worked for the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office for more than 30 years, starting as a patrol deputy when he was 19 and working his way up the ranks. He was elected sheriff in 2018, winning the position in a contest against former Sheriff James Theriault, and was reelected in 2022.

If Wainwright is removed, the governor will appoint an interim sheriff to serve until the next scheduled election.

According to the executive order issued last month to establish the hearing process, the governor’s order also states that “if the hearing officer (Alexander) 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.”

Staff writer Mark LaFlamme contributed to this report.

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