Authority to dismiss Oxford County sheriff lies with governor, not commissioners

May 8—PARIS — The Oxford County Commission has no authority to suspend or fire elected Sheriff Christopher Wainwright, who is under investigation for alleged misconduct.

Maine State Statute dictates that only the governor has that power.

According to 30A-441 in Maine statute which outlines the county commission's authority regarding the removal of a sheriff, the section reads, "Whenever the county commissioners find that the sheriff is not faithfully or efficiently performing any duty imposed by this chapter or that the sheriff is improperly exercising or acting outside the sheriff's authority, the commissioners may file a complaint with the Governor describing in detail the facts of those actions or omissions and requesting the Governor to remove the sheriff from office and appoint another sheriff in that office for the remainder of the term."

Wainwright, a Republican who won reelection last November, is under investigation for allegedly asking one of his deputies to go easy on a woman who had received a traffic citation.

The sheriff allegedly requested Deputy Tyler Fournier show leniency to the woman, Audrey Coffin, who was cited for consuming alcohol in a vehicle on a public way on Aug. 20, 2022, according to a leaked audio recording of a telephone call obtained by the Bangor Daily News.

Neither Wainwright nor Oxford County Administrator Donald Durrah would comment when reached Monday.

"Thank you for reaching out but I will respectfully decline further comment for now," Wainwright said.

"I cannot comment regarding a personnel matter until a final decision is rendered," Durrah said.

The County Commission will discuss the matter in executive session during a special meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday. The agenda indicates that possible action by the commissioners could be announced following the executive session.

According to the audio recording, as reported by the Bangor Daily News, Wainwright said he had the authority to rip up tickets, but said he never told Fournier to do that.

"Hey, I don't know when this goes to court, or if it has yet, but if it does, if you could do anything for it, I'd greatly appreciate it," Wainwright told Fournier.

The sheriff was reportedly asking for leniency for Coffin because her sister had a potential terminal illness.

Wainwright reportedly got incensed that Fournier, who was uncomfortable with the request and feeling pressure, reported the incident to his sergeant, which sent the complaint up the chain of command.

"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."

In a statement issued by Wainwright on Friday, he offered an apology admitting that he "overstated his authority as sheriff and using inappropriate language."

"Maine's Law Enforcement Code of Ethics requires that 'I enforce the law ... without fear or favor.' I violated the letter of that Code of Ethics, by asking my deputy to show favor to someone, and I should never have put my deputy in that position. His discomfort with my request is understandable in hindsight. He and another deputy reported it through the chain of command, and rightly so. But this angered me and made me feel betrayed."

The sheriff also said that he is "seeking management training classes to a gain better perspective on workplace dynamics."

Wainwright, Urquhart and the county are also facing a separate lawsuit brought by a former clerk in the Sheriff's Office. claiming she was forced to resign for speaking out about unfair worker treatment.

Joan Kelly of Hartford filed a civil complaint in Oxford County Superior Court in last summer, alleging she resigned from her position after her job description was changed, and she was disciplined unfairly for going public with concerns about unequal treatment of employees and the cover-up of employee misconduct.

The complaint was moved last fall to U.S. District Court as Kelly claimed her state and federal rights had been violated.

A lawyer representing the county filed a motion in December seeking to dismiss the complaint. In a March opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Lance E. Walker partially granted the county's motion, dismissing Kelly's due process and defamation claims.

The case is scheduled to go to trial in November.