STATEWIDE — If a sheriff breaks the law, only the governor can remove that person from office. Now a bill before the legislature seeks to fix that oversight.
Among other things, former Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant allegedly sent sexually explicit photos to members of his department as well to an officer with another law enforcement agency.
“Last session, I submitted much the same legislation as this in response to actions of the former Oxford County sheriff,” said Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield.
Gallant resigned in December 2017, the day after the Oxford County commissioners asked then Gov. Paul LePage to remove Gallant from office.
“In the Oxford County case while being investigated the sheriff remained active for more than 40 days, during which time records were destroyed,” Keim said.
Keim’s proposal would allow a sheriff to be placed on leave while under investigation. If approved as written, the bill would direct the superior court to investigate a sheriff’s behavior.
A spokesperson for the state judicial system told members of the legislature’s Committee on State and Local Government some questions surround the bill.
“We feel that there are separation of powers as well as constitutional concerns with the bill as currently drafted,” said Julia Finn of the Maine Legislative Branch.
Some legislators agreed there needs to be a process to remove a sheriff for cause, but before it can go further the constitutional clash needs to be fixed.
“The undeniable truth is that the overwhelming majority of sheriffs are men and women of integrity and we must hold accountable those that misstep,” said Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton, president of the Maine Sheriffs’ Association.