Former Millinocket Police Chief Craig Worster takes his oath of office in April 2019. Credit: Courtesy of Town of Millinocket

When Craig Worster became the Millinocket police chief in April 2019, the town posted a Facebook message welcoming him to the Penobscot County community. The post gave a brief overview of Worster’s career but left out key parts, including one detail that is only now coming to light.

The town didn’t mention that Worster had worked as a sergeant for the Wiscasset Police Department just months before. And it didn’t say that days after Worster left that job in December 2018, the local district attorney’s office took the unusual step of presenting information to a defendant that called Worster’s credibility as a court witness into question.

A district attorney’s decision to brand an officer as potentially uncredible is called a Giglio impairment — a kind of scarlet letter that can damage, or, in some cases, end an officer’s career and imperil criminal prosecutions with which they’re involved.

But the questions about his credibility didn’t prevent Worster from getting a job as the chief of the Millinocket Police Department four months later.

In Maine, due in large part to the secretive nature of Giglio impairments, concerns about an officer’s credibility don’t always follow officers from one job to the next, especially if the jobs are in places with different district attorneys. It’s unclear what Worster did specifically to earn such scrutiny from prosecutors, as the information remains under a court seal.

But the court paperwork referencing the Giglio material is public, and two people connected to the case in question — Brunswick defense attorney Andrew Wright and Wiscasset police Officer James Read — said the Giglio information was directed at Worster.

Millinocket’s Facebook post also didn’t mention that Worster left the Wiscasset Police Department after an internal investigation. On Dec. 6, 2018, Worster agreed to resign. In return, Wiscasset agreed to only talk about the investigation if asked and, if that happened, to only say the investigation had been closed without findings, according to a legal agreement reached between the two sides. The purpose of the internal investigation remains hidden from public view.

There was another red flag in Worster’s employment history that Millinocket did not note when it introduced him to the town. In 2015, Worster resigned from the police department in Ridgefield, Connecticut, the day after he was questioned as part of another internal investigation. The inquiry determined he made “sexually explicit comments, innuendo” and that his behavior created a “hostile work environment,” according to the investigative report.

Worster’s journey to Millinocket shows how officers with problematic histories can bounce from one department to another in Maine, especially rural departments in need of officers, avoiding public attention and accountability. This movement is aided by legal mechanisms, such as settlement agreements and secret lists of Giglio-impaired officers, that are designed to protect privacy and limit liability for municipalities and their employees, but in practice help shield officers from scrutiny.

Outside Maine, Giglio matters are sometimes handled differently. Some states, such as New Hampshire, maintain centralized lists of Giglio-impaired officers. Not all of them are publicly accessible, but they allow district attorneys to know if officers have been Giglio-impaired in other jurisdictions within their state.

It’s unclear how much Millinocket knew about the problematic parts of Worster’s history when it hired him.

John Davis, the former town manager who hired Worster, could not be reached for comment. Davis’ attorney, Ezra Willey, also represents Worster. Willey provided a statement that can be read in full here.

“[T]he BDN is attempting to smear Mr. Worster, publicly, without having the actual facts, as the BDN does not know what this so-called Giglio information even is,” Willey wrote in his statement. “This is clearly a willfully inaccurate conclusion on the part of the BDN.”

Current Millinocket Interim Town Manager Richard Angotti and town attorney Dean Beaupain did not respond to emailed questions about what research the town did into Worster’s past before hiring him.

Millinocket Town Council Chair Steve Golieb, who has served on the council since November 2017, said that, as far as he was aware, Davis did not share any information about the search process with the members of the council.

Former Millinocket Town Manager John Davis. Credit: Nick Sambides Jr. / BDN

“We have absolutely no say and, oftentimes, no involvement whatsoever, as far as having any knowledge of who’s being considered or hired,” said Golieb, who did not know about Worster’s Giglio matter until a reporter called him. “It’s completely within the discretion of the manager.”

Asked what background information Wiscasset shared with Millinocket, Wiscasset police Chief Larry Hesseltine directed questions to Matt Tarasevich, the town’s attorney. Tarasevich said he didn’t know what Millinocket sought or what it had received.

Others offered more insight. Worster wasn’t the first choice for the Millinocket police chief position, said former Chief Steve Kenyon, the man Worster replaced.

“But at the time he interviewed well,” Kenyon said. “But I wasn’t involved with doing the background check. That wasn’t my responsibility. That’s the responsibility of the town manager and human resources.”

The former police chief who hired Worster in Wiscasset, Jeff Lange, said he came to regret his decision. In April 2018, Lange gave Worster a “documented verbal counseling” for, among other things, “blatantly misinforming me of facts,” according to a discipline record obtained through a Freedom of Access Act request.

“I question his integrity when it comes to telling the truth,” said Lange, who is now an investigator with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. He retired from the Wiscasset department before Worster’s Giglio matter and said he had not known about it.

If Millinocket had not hired Worster, it might have avoided one of the more costly and contentious periods in the history of its police department.

Worster’s 20 months as chief saw the town agree to $240,000 in settlements with two officers who complained of harassment and bullying by Worster; tens of thousands of dollars in additional legal fees; a citizen petition drive calling for the termination of Worster, Davis and town attorney Beaupain; and, in December, the dissolution of the Millinocket Police Department.

‘Significant questions’

While it’s not clear what exactly Worster did to have his credibility questioned while working for the Wiscasset Police Department, it is clear it was related to his handling of an arrest in September 2018.

Court documents involving a drunk driver show that the district attorney’s office moved to provide the defense with “records regarding a witness in this case that may be relevant to that witness’s credibility” as part of its legal obligations to turn over material under the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court case Giglio v. United States. Because the records contained “sensitive” information, the district attorney’s office asked the judge to keep them confidential.

A judge ruled that Wright, the defense lawyer in the case, could not disseminate the Giglio information, so the specifics of the material are unclear, and Wright is barred from describing them.

Andrew Wright, left, speaks at an arraignment in Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland, Maine, in this December 2019 file photo. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / BDN

“Said materials are to be kept at all times in defense counsel’s files, except for use at trial or other court hearing. Said material shall be returned to the State immediately following final disposition in this case,” the judge ordered in December 2018.

Wright confirmed the Giglio information was related to Worster. He added that it wasn’t the first time he had doubts about Worster’s credibility.

“There certainly was Giglio information that should have been present in any search that Millinocket did into his previous employment,” said Wright, a former Lincoln County prosecutor.

There were “significant questions” about the “reliability of his reports,” he said.

Jonathan Liberman, the Lincoln County district attorney at the time and now a prosecutor with the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office, declined to comment.

But current Lincoln County District Attorney Natasha Irving, who took office shortly after Worster left the Wiscasset Police Department, confirmed that her office sent information demonstrating potential credibility issues to multiple defendants in cases where Worster was a witness. She declined to provide more information.

“I will confirm that the discovery regarding this issue routinely, as a matter of course, went out to every defendant in which he was a witness after they were charged,” she said.

Due to confidentiality rules, Irving is barred from describing the Giglio information, something she said should change.

“I don’t think the public is going to stand for this being so opaque forever. Nor should they. You should be able to know,” Irving said. “These are people paid by the taxpayers to protect and serve.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has established that prosecutors must hand over information to defense lawyers that calls into question the credibility of a witness, including police officers.

The information about an officer’s credibility, often called Giglio material, can help defense lawyers create doubt about the truthfulness of an officer’s testimony against their clients. It can also create headaches for prosecutors, who have to acknowledge some credibility issues with officers they might want to put on the stand. Because of this, prosecutors may go so far as to refuse to ever use a Giglio-impaired officer as a witness in court, essentially ending the officer’s career.

Prosecutors keep track of Giglio-impaired officers, whose identities are usually kept confidential. Once on a Giglio list, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to get off it. There is no clear legal way for officers to challenge or appeal their presence on the list.

But, according to a police report, there were only three witnesses in the Wiscasset operating under the influence case: someone who reported seeing a drunk driver at a McDonald’s; Read, the officer who made the arrest; and Worster, who performed sobriety tests on the defendant, Rebecca Fuller, at Two Bridges Regional Jail. Read and Wright, the defense attorney, both confirmed it was Worster’s credibility that the prosecutor called into question.

Fuller said her attorney told her during the legal proceedings that he believed Worster had been dishonest “multiple times” throughout her case, but she didn’t know the specifics.

Fuller ultimately pleaded guilty to operating under the influence and a violation of release charge. But the Giglio information resulted in an outcome that was more favorable to Fuller “than what the state was looking for,” Wright said.

‘I wouldn’t touch him or her’

It’s fairly rare for prosecutors to Giglio impair officers. It’s even rarer, and perhaps unprecedented, for an officer with a Giglio history to become a Maine police chief.

“Thank God we don’t see many Giglio impairments in the state of Maine,” said Ed Tolan, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association and a former police chief in Falmouth. If an applicant for an officer job had any Giglio issues, then “I wouldn’t touch him or her,” he said.

But it can be difficult for hiring agencies to know whether an officer has had credibility issues in the past.

Prosecutors do not typically report Giglio impairments to the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, which oversees the certification of Maine’s law enforcement officers. The system has caused frustration, said Rick Desjardins, the academy director.

Rick Desjardins, director of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

“Our board should be at least somewhat aware of what’s going on with these officers who are essentially deemed to be untruthful,” Desjardins said. “There is a bit of frustration. … [District attorneys] don’t necessarily talk with each other about who’s impaired or not.”

Two bills introduced in the Maine Legislature in February aim to make more information about officers’ histories available to potential employers. They would require law enforcement agencies to share personnel records, including records of internal investigations and Giglio matters, with potential employers. They would also shield employers from lawsuits related to sharing that information.

Late last year, the Maine Prosecutors’ Association convened a group to study how its members handle Giglio issues and whether changes are necessary, said Maeghan Maloney, president of the association and the Kennebec County district attorney.

Some other states disclose more information about officer misconduct.

Under Connecticut law, for example, internal affairs investigations are public. In Maine, however, investigative reports, even if they substantiate misconduct, are not public — and neither are their findings if there is no discipline. Then, even when an officer is disciplined, the records may be written in such a vague way that it’s impossible to determine what prompted the punishment.

Connecticut’s more access-friendly laws are why it was possible for the union representing Millinocket’s officers to get the Ridgefield Police Department’s entire 40-page sexual harassment investigation into Worster.

Even though Worster resigned from the Connecticut department on Feb. 10, 2014, during the course of the investigation, the investigating officer still finished the review. In Maine internal investigations are often shut down if the target resigns before the inquiry concludes.

The questions around Worster’s Giglio status could have implications for other disputes involving Worster.

In February 2020, after agreeing to a $90,000 settlement with the town of Millinocket, Paul Gamble, one of the officers who alleged bullying and harassment by Worster, sued Penobscot District Attorney Marianne Lynch in federal court for Giglio-impairing him and refusing to use him as a witness in any case. Lynch’s decision resulted in Gamble’s termination from the Millinocket Police Department and essentially ended his career in law enforcement, according to the lawsuit. Gamble sued under the pseudonym “Richard Roe” and confirmed he was Roe to the BDN.

In the lawsuit, Gamble alleged he was not given any due process to address the claims against him, which came from Worster.

The suit was dismissed on procedural grounds, but it is currently being heard by a federal appeals court.

Lynch declined to answer questions about whether she knew if a police chief in her district had been previously Giglio impaired or whether that knowledge would have made her consider the disagreement between Gamble and Worster differently.

Another dispute involves Worster’s former deputy chief, Janet Theriault, who filed an 85-page complaint against Worster with the town last year. The complaint has not been made public.

The town manager at the time, Davis, did not put Worster on administrative leave while a private detective investigated the allegations. In the end, Davis dismissed Theriault’s complaint. Shortly after, in September, the town council fired Davis in a 6-1 vote. In February, Theriault agreed to a $150,000 settlement with the town.

Golieb, the chair of the town council, introduced the successful motion to terminate Davis as town manager.

“After the change in his position, it was clear that there were many processes in general that need to be looked at and updated,” Golieb said.

Davis’ replacement, interim manager Annette Padilla, fired Worster in December. A few days later, the town council disbanded the police department and handed over policing duties to neighboring East Millinocket, a town less than half its size. Padilla was then terminated by the town council in early February. The town didn’t give a specific reason why.

In another twist, the Millinocket Personnel Appeals Board, a three-person board made up of resident volunteers, reversed Worster’s firing in February, essentially giving him back a job that no longer exists.

It’s possible the reversal could bolster a potential lawsuit that Worster and Davis have said they want to file against a long list of defendants.

Last year the two filed a notice of claim against the town; Theriault; members of the town council; the local union representing the town’s officers; the larger International Brotherhood of Teamsters and its president James P. Hoffa; as well as two Millinocket residents who shared information about Worster’s history on social media. A notice of claim is a legal step sometimes taken before filing a lawsuit.

The notice charges the defendants with a long list of violations, including defamation, intentional and negligent interference with a contractual obligation, fraudulent misrepresentation, fraud, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and dissemination of confidential materials.

Despite filing the notice in September, Worster and Davis have not filed suit. A lawsuit would add to the town’s legal bills, which have soared since Worster was hired. In 2019, the town spent $31,233 on legal expenses. In 2020, that amount more than doubled to $73,154.

So far in fiscal year 2021, the town has spent $133,963 in legal fees, though council chair Golieb said not all of the increase was related to personnel matters.

However, Golieb also said the town will save between $141,000 and $171,000 by contracting out its police services to East Millinocket, a move he said has been a success.

“They not only have a much greater presence that can be felt, but statistically they have been able to accomplish almost the exact same amount of work that was done in an entire year, under our last department, in just the past two months,” Golieb said. “It’s definitely an impressive difference.”

This story was supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism.