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Chief of Maine Capitol Police retires following social media investigation

Lt. Robert Elliot, a veteran of 33 years, will continue to serve as interim police chief until a replacement is found

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin has retired effective Friday following a three-month investigation into his activity on social media.

Under the terms of a separation agreement, Lt. Robert Elliot, a 33-year veteran of the force, will continue to serve as interim police chief until a replacement is found, Maine Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Shannon Moss said in a release.

As part of the agreement, the state will pay Gauvin $87,000 in severance pay and unused time off. Gauvin will resign in "good standing," according to the agreement, but cannot reapply for any job with the department.

Gauvin will still receive his pension, according to Moss.

Gauvin was removed from his post and put on paid administrative leave in January after a report in the Portland-based alternative news publication Mainer shared months of Gauvin's politically-charged social media posts.

The report showed screenshots of posts that had since been deleted, including one that questioned the usefulness of wearing masks to combat the spread of COVID-19. Another suggested law enforcement officers eligible for retirement might do so after Joe Biden, who was president-elect at the time, took office.

Credit: Mainer

In a January letter to Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck, at least 60 state lawmakers called for Gauvin to be placed on immediate administrative leave.

Sauschuck then called for a full review of Gauvin's social media use. However, Moss said Friday that the Bureau of Human Resources has now closed its review of Guavin. Moss said that per Maine law, that review is subject to confidentiality as a personnel-related record.

Gauvin issued an apology in mid-January, calling the posts he shared "inconsistent" with his professional responsibilities.

"I certainly never intended for my social media account to ever bring my commitment to fair and professional law enforcement into question," he said at the time.

It has been an honor to lead the Capitol Police for fifteen years, under three Governors, and to have the opportunity to serve alongside such talented men and women, both sworn and civilian, to keep the seat of Maine State government safe,” Gauvin said in Friday's release. “I believe now is the appropriate time to step into retirement. My retirement will allow the important work of the Capitol Police to continue uninterrupted. I extend my deepest gratitude to the men and women of the Capitol Police for the honor of leading them.”

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“The Maine Capitol Police serves an incredibly important role in the security of our state capitol,” Sauschuck said in Friday's release. “I appreciate Chief Gauvin’s 15 years of faithful service to the State, and we look forward to selecting a successor to lead this agency into the future.

Gauvin's attorney, Brett Baber of Lanham Blackwell & Baber, released a full statement from Gauvin Friday.

“In response to the State's announcement today that I will be retiring effective today, April 30, 2021, I take this opportunity to thank the men and women of the Maine Capitol Police for their support, assistance and friendship during my tenure as Chief over the past 15 years.  

Following a 26 year career with Portland Police, I was hired in 2006 to lead the Capitol Police (formerly known as the Capitol Security) by Governor Baldacci's Commissioner of Public Safety, Michael Cantera.  I served under three Governors, four Commissioners, and nine different Legislatures.  The Capitol Police successfully kept the peace, enforced the law, and protected the safety and rights of all people, from all walks of life, as they came to Augusta to work, to represent their constituents, or, as citizens, to express their opinions to their representatives. 

I am very proud of the progress made and the work performed during my involvement with the Capitol Police.  I owe the men and women of the Capitol Police, sworn and non-sworn, a huge debt of gratitude. Progress was only possible with their support and assistance. Work was completed only because they collectively rolled up their sleeves and did what needed to be done.  There are literally hundreds of other coworkers, Legislators, officials in State government, and others in partner law enforcement agencies, who have contributed to the success of the Capitol Police who are all deserving of my appreciation.

The work of the Capitol Police is far from complete.  There are many challenges facing the Bureau as it moves forward. 

Perhaps the most daunting difficulty is the new political landscape.  The role of law enforcement is to evenly and fairly enforce the law with all people regardless of political affiliation, race, religious beliefs or any other individual characteristics or opinions. In performing that role, law enforcement is supposed to be insulated from partisan politics.  

During my career with the Capitol Police, and throughout my 41 years in policing, I endeavored to put all political and personal opinions aside to do the right thing in each situation and to treat everyone equally and fairly.  We are now in an era where some people are disfavored and even ridiculed by others simply because they have a different opinion.  Instead of tolerance and appreciation of differences, too many people think that they have all the right answers. Dissent has become unwelcome.  Critical thinking, a skill that used to be valued and taught, has become an undesirable trait because it challenges group think.  

I am now stepping aside to entrust others to perform the duties of law enforcement and to move the profession forward.  Partisan politics must be removed from law enforcement in order that law enforcement professionals may once again focus on doing what is right -- not what is politically correct -- but what is right for the individuals involved in the multitude of complex situations that people are facing.

Finally, I acknowledge and thank my family and friends for their support over my long career.  It is now time for me to give them back some of the attention and support that they gave me so generously over the years.”

Gauvin's separation agreement