Hancock County Sheriff Scott Kane called his cancellation of an addiction recovery coach program at the jail last year “an emotional reaction” on Tuesday morning, and said he could have handled the situation differently.
But many of the nearly 100 people who tuned in to a county commissioners’ meeting Tuesday morning said the sheriff’s statement didn’t go far enough and that Kane should resign.
Among those who called for Kane to resign was Commissioner John Wombacher, who said that he “unfortunately” believes Kane has not lived up to his oath of office, in which he vowed to support the U.S. and Maine constitutions.
“I do think the sheriff should resign,” Wombacher said, adding that he should have spoken up sooner about the matter after he found out last summer that the sheriff had barred Healthy Acadia from working at the jail after the group issued a statement in support of Black Lives Matter last June.
Kane has come under fire for terminating an agreement with Healthy Acadia, a nonprofit public health organization in Ellsworth, to provide opioid recovery coaching services to inmates with addictions at the county jail. Inmates have had no coaching recovery services at the jail since the sheriff canceled that agreement.
After the BDN reported on the situation last week, officials with the county and with Healthy Acadia met Monday and are working on a written memorandum of understanding that is expected to restore recovery coaching services at the jail on Friday.
Kane said Tuesday that his decision last summer to bar Healthy Acadia from offering recovery coaching services to jail inmates — a service that had been done in person but which shifted to Zoom calls with inmates after the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Maine — “was an emotional reaction to words said and positions taken by some in the Black Lives Matter movement specifically against law enforcement.”
He said that the national political environment is “incredibly volatile” and said that people should engage more in civil discourse and give each other the benefit of the doubt.
Police officers have come under scrutiny and should not automatically be viewed in a negative light, Kane said, but he added it is “also wrong to assume that those who are passionate about improving race relations in America are only advocating to defund the police and inflict harm on those who swear to protect and serve.”
Kane declined further comment and logged off the commissioners’ meeting after reading his statement.
The sheriff has received some support for his criticism of Black Lives Matter — which he had characterized as an anti-law enforcement group that has called for violence against police officers — but others have accused him of using his personal political views as justification for preventing inmates from receiving recovery coaching, and for terminating the prior agreement with Healthy Acadia.
Supporters of the public health organization have said it was entirely appropriate for the group to weigh in on how systemic racial discrimination has affected the quality of health care that people of color receive.
“I think there has been a failure of leadership here,” Penobscot resident David Jolly told commissioners. “[Kane] discredited a really vital community organization that was exercising its First Amendment rights [and] he deprived inmates of a really critical service.”
Jolly was among roughly two dozen people who criticized Kane before the county’s three commissioners on Tuesday. Some called for Kane to resign and said that commissioners should do more to address the issue of racial inequality, perhaps by putting out a statement of their own, beyond just re-hiring Healthy Acadia to provide recovery coaches to inmates.
Commission chair William Clark noted that the matter was not listed as an agenda item for the meeting, and said that commissioners would not discuss the issue without providing the public with appropriate advance notice.
Franklin resident Rachel Singh said Kane’s actions were “disgraceful and an embarrassment” and urged the commissioners to put out a public statement about it.
“I think it is telling that the sheriff is no longer in this meeting,” Singh said. “All of us are outraged about this. He has no business being a public safety official in our county.”