AUGUSTA — Gov. Janet Mills has accepted an advisory opinion recommending Oxford County Sheriff Christopher Wainwright not be removed from office.

Oxford County Commissioners David Duguay of Byron, Timothy Turner of Buckfield and Steven Merrill of Norway sent a detailed 10-page complaint in February to the governor, asking her to remove Wainwright for his failure “to faithfully and efficiently perform the duties of his office and improperly exercised and acted outside of his legal authority.”

They issued their complaint based on three incidents they determined called into question Wainwright’s ability to perform the duties of his office: ordering an officer to show leniency toward a person whom they issued a ticket, selling firearms out of the evidence locker with no records showing the sale or location of the proceeds, and employing and arming two school resource officers whose credentials lapsed.

Only Mills had the constitutional power to dismiss Wainwright, but decided against it based on the recommendation of former Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Donald G. Alexander, who she appointed to conduct an administrative hearing, which took two days last week.

“I believe the evidence presented falls short of satisfying what must be a high standard for the governor’s removal from office of a popularly elected sheriff,” Mills wrote Monday in a letter to Wainwright and county commissioners.

Asked for a comment Monday afternoon, Wainwright said he would provide a statement later but none had been received as of 8 p.m.

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Commissioners issued a statement Monday afternoon disagreeing with Mills’ decision with respect to her office, Justice Alexander and the process.

“Our priorities will continue to be promoting effective governance of Oxford County, supporting county staff, especially those who stepped forward in the face of significant pressure, and ensuring that county business is done in an evenhanded, professional manner,” the statement reads. “While we will continue to perform our legal duty to ensure that all county officials effectively and faithfully perform their responsibilities, we will work in good faith to rebuild a productive relationship between our office and Sheriff Wainwright moving forward.”

Commissioners first discovered potential problems in the sheriff’s office when they learned Wainwright asked one of his deputies in late 2022 to show leniency to a female acquaintance for a traffic ticket. When the sheriff learned the deputy had reported Wainwright’s request to his superiors, Wainwright shouted and bullied the deputy, according to a tape recording of the conversation.

Mills said Wainwright’s request was not improper as law enforcement often considers factors on a case-by-case basis that may be presented before a judge for consideration. However, the manner of Wainwright’s request for leniency was unprofessional and “a serious error in judgment.”

While Wainwright accepted responsibility during the hearing, it does not excuse his actions, which has likely affected morale in his office, Mills said in her decision.

“The evidence does not indicate that this single incident was part of a larger pattern of behavior, and, as a result, while handled poorly, I do not believe it is sufficient cause to justify the sanction of removal from a popularly elected office,” Mills wrote.

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Wainwright also employed two former Maine State Police officers as school resource officers and issued them badges and firearms, even though their police credentials had expired. Evidence presented at the hearing showed the officers were hired by Wainwright’s predecessor Sheriff James Theriault in 2018. Wainwright corrected what amounted to mistakes in paperwork that happened before he was appointed sheriff in the same year, Mills noted.

“The sheriff was responsible for ensuring the certifications were in place, and he should take greater care in the future to avoid similar mistakes,” Mills wrote. “The evidence shows, however, that this was largely an administrative oversight, and one that was both rectified and caused no harm.”

Finally, commissioners learned that Wainwright sold firearms from the evidence room and received credit for those purchases, without the knowledge of county officials and outside the financial scrutiny of those officials.

While the county had no records of those sales, evidence showed Wainwright did apply credits from those sales toward new service weapons. Mills said Wainwright should have sought commissioners’ blessings to proceed with the sales, but was not required to due to “ambiguity in how the county’s policies apply to these transactions.”

Mills said her role in determining whether Wainwright should be removed from office is to consider the facts of the complaint and to conclude whether they justify removal as defined by Maine’s Constitution.

“My decision here should not be viewed as a vindication of Sheriff Wainwright. The hearing record shows that he has made mistakes and acted intemperately on occasion,” Mills wrote. “In my view, the voters of Oxford County should be the ultimate judge of the sheriff on these matters when and if he puts his name before them for reelection in the future.”

Sun Journal staff writer Steve Sherlock contributed to this story.

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