AUGUSTA, Maine — Longtime Maine Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin lamented “a new political landscape” as he retired Friday after months off the job and under review for Facebook posts promoting falsehoods about masks and the 2020 presidential election.
Gauvin led the police force protecting the Maine State House and other buildings around the capitol complex for 15 years. Days after his controversial posts were reported by the Portland magazine Mainer in January, he was placed on leave and the state put Lt. Robert Elliot in temporary charge of the agency as it reviewed Gauvin’s conduct under personnel policies.
The sides were quiet until Friday, when the state released a statement announcing Gauvin’s retirement and a settlement entitling him to just over $87,000 in severance and unused leave pay. He will retire in good standing with no disciplinary finding after a 41-year career mostly spent with Portland police.
In his own statement, Gauvin criticized the political landscape and said it has led to people being “disfavored and even ridiculed by others simply because they have a different opinion.”
Gauvin’s posts on a personal Facebook account were made public after supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and as states girded for protests on the day of Biden’s inauguration two weeks later. The chief had cast doubt on the validity of President Joe Biden’s election and questioned masks’ effectiveness in stopping the spread of COVID-19.
His employment situation became a partisan issue in Augusta, with 70 Democratic lawmakers calling for him to be placed on leave. Minority Republicans then accused them of forcing “ideological conformity.” On Friday, Assistant House Minority Leader Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, said the probe “should have been swifter” and Gauvin “should have been fired.”
The state’s social media policy is clear that personal posts are protected speech but it bars excessive personal use of social media during work hours. In an interview, Gauvin said the posts in question were made on personal time and blamed Gov. Janet Mills’ administration for bowing to pressure from lawmakers to place him on leave after Democratic legislators criticized him even though the review “never produced anything of substance.”
The sides began negotiating a settlement “to avoid further inquiry,” said attorney Brett Baber, who represented Gauvin. While the outgoing chief said he was confident he could have prevailed if the disciplinary process played out, his planned retirement was not far away and the state did not want him back, so the agreement was the best option.
“They put themselves in a political quagmire, I think,” Gauvin said. “Under the circumstances, I think we came to a fair resolution for everybody.”