Governor Janet Mills’ decision Monday not to remove Sheriff Christopher Wainwright from his popularly elected position stems from three main complaints from Oxford County Commissioners that led them to request the action.

Commissioners David Duguay of Byron, Timothy Turner of Buckfield and Steven Merrill of Norway filed a 10-page complaint in February to Mills’ office asking her to remove Wainwright for requesting a deputy be lenient on a ticketed motorist, employment and arming of two school resource officers whose credentials lapsed, and sale of evidence firearms with no records.

Per the Maine constitution, county commissioners cannot vote to remove a sheriff from office. The power lies only with the governor.

Mills’ decision not to remove Wainwright came from the recommendations of former Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Donald G. Alexander, whom she appointed to conduct an administrative hearing. The recommendations found no wrongdoing on Wainwright’s part, though Mills did highlight that professionalism was lacking in some of Wainwright’s decision making.

Wainwright, a resident of Canton, was serving his second term as Oxford County Sheriff. He was first elected in 2018 and then survived challengers in both the primary and general election to win a second term in 2022. He has worked for the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office for 30 years, beginning when he was 19 years old and working up the ranks.

The first incident that commissioners discovered occurred in September 2022, Oxford County Deputy Tyler Fournier spotted a person opening a Twisted Tea in her parked vehicle. He issued her a ticket for having an open container of alcohol in her vehicle.

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The woman, it turned out, was a former high school classmate of Wainwright’s brother, Wainwright said through his attorney in a written response to the original complaint to the governor. Wainwright said he recognized the woman at a charity event for her sister undergoing cancer treatments.

The sheriff overheard the woman’s sister describe an encounter with a new (Oxford County) deputy, while enjoying a day of distraction with her sister, that resulted in receiving a ticket of some kind. The woman, he said, did not ask for his assistance.

Then in early November, Wainwright spotted Fournier working at a high school football game in Dixfield. According to attorney Amy Dieterich’s closing statement, Wainwright approached Fournier and took him aside so that no one could hear the conversation.

Fournier testified that the sheriff brought up that ticket during a brief two-minute conversation and told him to “make it right.” Fournier said the conversation made him feel uncomfortable and worried.

“I was taken off guard by it,” Fournier testified about Wainwright’s request.

He discussed the situation with his partner, Deputy Gerald Maccione, after the game, who suggested that he report it to his supervisor.

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Speaking remotely, Maccione followed Fournier on the stand and confirmed the conversation he had with Fournier. He said he suggested to Fournier to discuss it up the chain of command.

“It was the right thing to do,” he said.

Once the report began up the chain, it finally reached Wainwright’s desk, who was infuriated by the report. The sheriff admitted he was angry and said he felt betrayed by the deputies.

On Dec. 7, 2022, Wainwright made phone calls to the two deputies to confront them.

What happened next is not in question because the phone conversations were recorded. At the hearing, Dieterich played the recording of Wainwright getting incensed that his deputies reported the incident and did not discuss it first with him.

“I don’t work for the county commissioners, and I don’t work for the chief deputy (James Urquhart). You all work for me,” Wainwright is heard saying. “And if I tell you not to write any (expletive) tickets ever again, you won’t write any tickets ever again. You know what I’m saying? That’s the sheriff. It’s a constitutional office.”

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Despite later admitting that the deputies took appropriate action, Wainwright said he was angry at the time and now regrets confronting them by overstating his authority as sheriff, “using inappropriate language and speaking in a tone unbefitting of the leader of a law enforcement agency.”

Fournier, who said he was testifying on his own free will because “it is my duty,” added that he feared retaliation and felt his job could be at risk.

In his conversation with Wainwright, Maccione said he was “nervous. I was stuttering on my words. It was a difficult conversation.”

His supervisor, Sgt. Timothy Ontengco, later spoke to Maccione, who he described as upset with the situation. Ontengco called it a “venting session.” He added that Fournier, who first reported the incident to him, was “despondent” during their conversation, which he said was not like him.

Wainwright testified that he believed he had the power to shred any ticket he wanted. He told Dieterich under cross examination that he felt he had that power due to a conversation he recalled having with former chief of investigations, Brian MacMaster, with the Maine Attorney General’s office.

According to a report filed by the county investigator, MacMaster said he has never told anyone that a sheriff can shred tickets. He added that the action, while not illegal, was unethical.

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In his closing, Wainwright’s attorney Jonathan Berry acknowledged that Wainwright wishes the conversation he had with his deputies seeking leniency for the traffic ticket had never happened.

“Sheriff Wainwright has apologized,” Berry said. “He regrets ever having those conversations. If he could take them back, he would. He’s acknowledged his behavior, and he’d like to move forward.”

Commissioners were angry when they heard the recording of the phone conversation with the deputies.

In a scathing rebuke in May 2023, the commissioners said the decision not to seek his removal then was “a close call,” saying the board had “no good choices.” The three-member commission said it would be less disruptive to keep Wainwright on a short rope, rather than seek his dismissal.

“It is better to give the Sheriff an opportunity to follow through on his commitments for self-improvement and to demonstrate that he can conduct himself in a manner befitting his office,” according to commissioners.

In their statement, the commissioners said another incident could result in sending such a request to Mills.

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“He needs to gain a clearer perspective on workplace dynamics and set his pride aside so that he can regain the trust of the employees of his office,” the commissioners said.

Dieterich said in her closing that the sheriff received a second chance to regain the confidence of the county and his employees.

“He said he was sorry and that he would do better,” she added. “The commissioners believed him, and Sheriff Wainwright’s commitment to improving himself. But they also said if the sheriff engages in further conduct unbefitting of his office, they would revisit the issue. What they didn’t know was that more conduct unbefitting of his office was already happening and had been happening for years.”

That conduct concerned the hiring and the annual reappointment of two school resource officers, a pair of retired Maine State Police officers, whose certification had expired.

Wainwright, who said he was chief deputy at the time, testified that he was not involved in the naming of the SROs, who were appointed by his predecessor Sheriff James Theriault in 2018. The appointment was made during an election when Theriault lost the Oxford County Sheriff’s race to Wainwright.

“I don’t know what happened in 2018,” Wainwright said under cross examination. “I was not involved in the hiring.”

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Theriault apparently did not file the proper paperwork with the state.

The two SROs — Percy Turner, who worked in Buckfield for Regional School Unit 10, and Michael Kaspereen, who covered Hiram-based Maine School Administrative District 55 — were given a county-issue gun, a badge and had the power to make arrests despite the lack of certification.

According to Dieterich, county records show that the two SROs were officially issued firearms in 2020 and possibly could have had them before, but no county records exist. Wainwright had testified that the two uncertified school resource officers did not receive firearms until 2022 or 2023.

“His actions and inactions violated the law and created a legal liability to the county, to his department and to him personally,” Dieterich said.

Under cross examination, Wainwright defended his actions, saying that it only took him four months to resolve the situation when he learned of it in 2023.

But Dieterich said he was first aware of it by at least 2021, according to county records.

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Last year, Berry had described the incident being investigated by the academy as an administrative matter and not disciplinary.

A month later, the Maine Criminal Justice Academy sent a Letter of Guidance to Wainwright, saying it was the sheriff’s responsibility to make sure his officers have the proper certification and “if they carry a firearm on school property before recertification, they may be committing a Class E crime.”

Letters of Guidance are meant as education for law enforcement in areas that need corrective action.

The letters were placed in the officers’ files, but neither Wainwright nor the officers faced disciplinary action by the academy.

“Was the failure in 2018 to file that notice of hire illegal or unlawful?” Berry asked during his closing arguments. “It was technically illegal. It was technically a violation of law. But this is not what we’re here to argue. It was a mistake. Something happened. The result was unfortunate.”

The selling of guns, beyond what the county said was authorized is what finally forced the commissioners to request his dismissal. The two commissioners who testified, Duguay and Turner, both said that the board had lost trust in the sheriff.

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Wainwright had testified that he believed he had the authority to dispose or trade in weapons in the county evidence room and said he believed the commissioners gave him that permission.

“I felt it was understood,” Wainwright said.

But Dieterich pointed out that Duguay and Turner, under oath, said they gave no permission to sell weapons from either Dixfield or the county’s evidence rooms.

The county took over the Dixfield evidence room when the town disbanded its Police Department.

“Commissioners Turner and Duguay testified that Sheriff Wainwright never brought up trading any, other than the employees’ service weapons,” Dieterich said.

They were only aware of perhaps 30 service weapons being updated for $27,000, plus trade-in value for those weapons, in March 2020.

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The Sheriff’s Office did not take control of the guns in the Dixfield evidence room until late 2020, which meant the commissioners could not have possibly given Wainwright permission to also sell those guns.

Detective Michael Halacy, who oversees the evidence room, discussed how he processes evidence that must be stored. He said the room has changed locations over the years and that the current location is near capacity.

He testified that in 2021, Wainwright ordered him to gather more than 50 guns and parts from the evidence room for sale. He was instructed to not seek the guns’ owners.

“If they have not been looking for the gun, we shouldn’t waste time looking for the gun owner,” Halacy testified Wainwright told him.

Those guns included many from the Dixfield evidence room.

Wainwright defended the gun sales to J.T. Reid Gun Shop in Auburn, saying that the majority of firearms that were removed for disposal or destruction from the evidence room were weapons used in the commission of a crime or involved in a traumatic event, such as a suicide. Some had serial numbers removed. He added that the county had not auctioned off guns for sale since at least 2000.

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The gun shop provided the sheriff a credit, which he said was used to purchase firearms. He described the purchasing of firearms in 2020, which commissioners signed off on, as well as the guns from the evidence room in 2021 as “one continuous transaction.”

An investigator hired by the county determined that the sheriff’s “trade of firearms and firearm parts from the county’s evidence room without permission, accurate documentation or following required legal procedures violated several Maine civil laws, a criminal statute, county policy and put Oxford County at risk.”

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

The gun sale was consistent with how the county had disposed of guns in the past, Berry said in his closing. He added that he is certain that the county commissioners were aware of the current sale, which included the firearms in the evidence room.

“This practice is consistent with the historical practices of Oxford County as documented by the sheriff,” Berry said.

Dieterich said that Wainwright produced no evidence or witness to corroborate his assertion that the county had an unwritten policy to dispose of guns that did not follow the department’s written policy.

Sun Journal staff writer Joe Charpentier contributed to this report.


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