The following is the text of the advisory conclusions of retired Maine Supreme Court Justice Donald G. Alexander, who was asked by Gov. Janet Mills to preside over a hearing on the request by Oxford County commissioners to remove Oxford County Sheriff Christopher Wainwright from office.

The Law Enforcement Code of Ethics within the Standard Operating Procedures of the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office, stated in full below, provides an excellent guide by which to examine the legal and ethical obligations of law enforcement officers, including the Oxford County Sheriff, in performing the law enforcement and administrative duties of their office. It can aid in evaluating whether Sheriff Wainwright has violated his duties of office in such a manner that he was “not faithfully or efficiently performing any duty imposed upon the sheriff by law”, the Constitutional standard for removal from office stated in Art. IX, § 10 of the Maine Constitution.

Review of that Law Enforcement Code of Ethics makes it evident that minor violations of the code may appear to occur when law enforcement officers, in their work, must make split second discretionary decisions in situations where they may not have all the necessary information at hand, and later developed information can make a law enforcement officer’s action, or in action, look very different. Likewise, in high stress situations law enforcement officers often face, self-restraint sometimes may be challenging to maintain, and aggressive statements, as occurred in this case, may occasionally occur.

But every deviation from the Code of Ethics standards in stressful situations need not result in termination of one’s service in law enforcement. For termination, a pattern and practice of such violations must be demonstrated.

The sheriff’s request for leniency

Analysis of this issue is divided into two parts: First, the issuance of the ticket and the Sheriff’s request to the Deputy to have the charge reduced or dismissed; Second the Sheriff’s interactions, a couple days later, with the Deputy and the Deputy’s partner on duty that evening.

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On or about August 20, 2022, a woman was ticketed for consuming alcohol in a motor vehicle on a public way. Sheriff Wainwright was not aware of the stop and the ticket.

Approximately a month later, Sheriff Wainwright learned that the woman’s sister suffered from stage 4 cancer, at benefit event for the sister.

Sheriff Wainwright also learned that the woman had been ticketed and that her cancer-stricken sister was in the vehicle with the woman celebrating, including drinking, after an enjoyable outing. Sheriff Wainwright indicated to the woman that he would look into the ticket issued to her by his Deputy. Approximately six weeks later, Sheriff Wainwright saw the woman at a November 4, 2022 football game. She stated “Don’t forget I got that ticket” to Sheriff Wainwright. After seeing the woman at the football game, and as indicated in Stipulation XIII, Sheriff Wainwright approached the Deputy who had issued the ticket. He brought up the ticket to the Deputy and, considering the woman’s circumstances, asked “Can you make it right?” He asked the Deputy to seek leniency for the woman if and when the matter went to Court.

As indicated in the findings, the Deputy was concerned that the Sheriff’s request to him was an unethical and illegal attempt at ticket fixing, and that not doing as the Sheriff asked could put his Deputy position at risk. He proceeded to report the conversation into the chain of command, with the Chief Deputy ultimately learning of it from another Deputy the weekend before the November 8, 2022 election.

After Sheriff Wainwright learned of these communications, the sharp conversations described in the findings happened.

Despite the Deputy’s adverse reaction, the Sheriff’s request to the Deputy seeking leniency is a common and accepted practice in a case (a) where the person charged had no prior record; (b) where the offense occurred in the course of the accused person’s assisting her sister to enjoy the moment, despite the sister’s very difficult circumstances – a diagnosis of terminal cancer; and (c) where there was no evidence of a close, special relationship between the Sheriff and the person charged.

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Calling the Sheriff’s acts attempts at “ticket fixing” can make the acts sound bad for those who want to criticize. But ticket fixing is not what occurred here, referencing an event 10 weeks previously where the case was already pending in court and likely subject to some control by the District Attorney’s office, if not a judge.

Communications among law enforcement officers, both up and down the chain of command, between law enforcement and prosecutors, and between law enforcement, prosecutors, defendants and the courts are common in cases of first offenders, and particularly those cases with special, mitigating circumstances.

Those communications are not “ticket fixing,” and they are not unethical or illegal. In practice they may be called early diversion or alternative disposition programs, sometimes practiced within a law enforcement agency before the matter moves to court, or once the case gets to court practiced in discussions with police, defendants, and prosecutors with reduced charges or dismissed charges often the result. Such dispositions are encouraged by legislative enactments and by court scheduling practices, particularly with today’s crowded dockets.

Sheriff Wainwright violated no rules of law or ethics is requesting – requesting not demanding – consideration of such an early diversion or alternative disposition for a first offender where there were difficult mitigating circumstances associated with the offense.

The sharp conversations with the charging Deputy and another Deputy a couple days later are a different matter. The conversations are addressed in findings 214 and 215. Sheriff Wainwright has admitted that those statements were inappropriate and not proper conduct for a person in his position discussing the matter with subordinates. He concedes that they were an error of judgment for which he has accepted responsibility.

In the Spring of 2023, Sheriff Wright made commitments to try to change his practices to avoid such exchanges in the future. There is no evidence in the record of any other such communications by Sheriff Wainwright before or after the events of November 7, 2022.

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Law enforcement is stressful work, managing a law enforcement agency is stressful work. Sometimes, in the heat of a moment, swearing and claims to have more authority than one really has happen. Absent personal violence or law breaking, such singular moments of bad judgment cannot justify a termination. A pattern and practice of such events must be demonstrated. No such pattern and practice is demonstrated here. This decision must proceed to examine whether, combined with the other claims of impropriety presented for decision, a combination of events can demonstrate a pattern and practice of failure to faithfully and efficiently perform the duties of a sheriff.

The firearms trade ins

As indicated in finding 102, the record keeping and paperwork problems that contributed to the issues relating to (a) identifying any owner and the means of Oxford County acquisition of firearms in the evidence locker; and (b) determining past practices and proper practices for disposition of firearms from the evidence locker; preceded Sheriff Wainwright’s tenure as Sheriff of Oxford County and have continued during his tenure. Evidence, including Sheriff’s Exhibit 5, indicated that other law enforcement agencies have similar paperwork problems and other difficulties in their firearms disposition practices. Further, the practices for disposition of firearms in the possession of the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office varied greatly over the years. Findings 301 to 320 outline the problem in detail.

In those circumstances, the record does not support, to the preponderance of the evidence standard, any finding that Sheriff Wainwright, in his trade in actions to obtain credits to be used for the purchase of new firearms, violated any provision of State law, Oxford County procurement policy, Sheriff’s Office policy for retention and disposition of firearms or evidence, or rules of ethics applicable to law enforcement officers.

Certification status of two school resource officers

As was the case with the firearms trade in issue, the record keeping and paperwork problems that contributed to the issues relating to properly certifying and documenting certification status of Deputies assigned as School Resource Officers, preceded Sheriff Wainwright’s tenure as Sheriff of Oxford County, and continued during his tenue, as outlined in the findings addressing this SRO certification issue. Particularly notable was the apparent failure to include notices of hire in the applications for certification of the two SROs occurred in 2018.

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After having been notified of the problem by a complaint, in September 2023, the MCJA reviewed the circumstances of the SROs initial hire, deployment, lapse in certification and recertification processes. After review and consultation, the issue was resolved without any disciplinary action being taken. The MCJA issued a “letter of guidance” promoting improving the record keeping and certification documentation practice, improvements that it appears, without dispute, were needed.

In the circumstances demonstrated by the facts, the record does not support, to the preponderance of the evidence standard, any finding that Sheriff Wainwright, in his and his Office’s actions in certifying and documenting certification of the SROs and in supervising and training the SROs, violated any provision of State law, MCJA rules and supervision requirements, or rules of ethics applicable to law enforcement officers.

The Removal Issue

The record of the hearing and the findings and conclusions of this Decision do not support removal of the Oxford County Sheriff from his elected position. Failure to faithfully or efficiently perform any duty imposed upon the Sheriff by law, in order to justify removal, is not proven.


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