Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) issued an Executive Order on Friday calling for hearings over allegations of misconduct against Oxford County Sheriff Christopher Wainwright (R) made earlier in the week by the Oxford County Commissioners.
Gov. Mills executive order, as well as the complaint made by the commissioners, follows closely on reporting by the Bangor newspaper that revealed Wainwright improperly sold firearms from his offices evidence locker.
In a Wednesday letter, Oxford County Commissioners asked Mills to remove Sheriff Wainwright, delivering a ten-page missive detailing various offenses committed by the sheriff.
“The actions of the sheriff undermine his ability to be the leader of a law enforcement agency, to command the confidence and respect of the department and the public, and to enforce the laws and policies of Oxford County and his own department with respect to ethical conduct,” the commissioners said in their letter.
Under Maine law, only the governor can remove an elected sheriff from office. According to the Maine State Constitution, she is required to appoint a qualified replacement who is a member of the same political party.
The letter highlighted three major incidents as evidence for the sheriff’s misconduct and unfitness for the job.
Commissioners accused Wainwright of pressuring a deputy into seeking leniency for a personal acquaintance who had been ticketed.
Wainwright allegedly approached Deputy Tyler Fournier after he discovered that an acquaintance, Audrey Coffin, was issued a ticket by Deputy Fournier for drinking while driving on a public road.
Wainwright approached Fournier, asking him to seek leniency if Coffin’s case were to be heard in court, the commissioners alleged.
Fournier, who was extremely uncomfortable with the chief’s request, reported the incident.
Despite the mitigating factor that Wainwright was requesting the leniency mainly because Coffin’s sister was suffering from cancer, the commissioners determined that the sheriff’s actions constituted an ethics violation.
Wainwright was also accused of illegally trading firearms and firearm parts from the Oxford county evidence locker, as was first reported by the Bangor Daily News.
“The Oxford Board of Commissioners became aware that Sheriff Wainwright had traded firearms and firearm parts from the county’s evidence room several times in 2021 without the knowledge, oversight, or approval of the Commissioners or County Administrator,” said the commissioners.
Finally, the commissioners accused Wainwright of appointing School Resource Officers (SRO) to their positions despite them having never received the required training or certification for the position.
Wainwright has previously apologized for his failures, but has maintained that they are not sufficient grounds for his removal from office.
Mills responded to the letter with an executive order Friday establishing a formal hearing process to consider the serious allegations made against Wainwright.
Mills named former Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Donald G. Alexander as the hearing officer, who will listen to arguments from the County Commissioners and from Wainwright, and deliver a recommendation to Mills at the conclusion of the proceedings.
“I look forward to meeting with the parties and working cooperatively to have a hearing and then prepare an advisory report to the Governor reasonably promptly,” said Frmr. Justice Alexander.
Mills’ order also requires Alexander to report the hearing’s evidence to law enforcement if Wainwright’s actions appear to constitute criminal activity.
The executive order did not establish a timeframe for the proceedings.