Lewiston’s handling of the circumstances surrounding its deputy chief's departure means the public has no way to know how the police department addressed repeated concerns about the officer's conduct. Credit: Photo illustration by Lindsay Putnam / BDN

A federal drug intelligence officer who works within a controversial arm of the Maine State Police resigned in 2014 from the Lewiston Police Department after two women separately accused him of harassment and intimidation, according to written complaints and public records.

James Minkowsky retired as deputy chief of the Lewiston Police Department on Dec. 31, 2014, after a woman alleged he used his position to intimidate her and made threatening comments that caused her to fear for her safety, prompting her to seek a temporary protection from abuse order.

After she came forward, Minkowsky spent his remaining nine months with the Lewiston force on medical leave, according to the city’s human resources department. The complaint marked the second time in a year that a woman reported concerns about Minkowsky’s behavior to his employer. Their allegations have not previously been published.

Lewiston police did not publicly disclose any information about the circumstances leading to Minkowsky’s departure, only announcing his resignation after 25 years of service in a press release. About two months before he left, Minkowsky reached a separation agreement with the city that, among other terms, prohibited him from discussing it publicly. He resigned the day he became eligible for his retirement benefits.

Lewiston’s quiet handling of the circumstances surrounding Minkowsky’s departure means the public has no way to know how the state’s second-largest police department addressed repeated concerns about the conduct of the city’s No. 2 officer who went on to obtain another law enforcement position, this time inside an intelligence unit that has drawn intense scrutiny for allegations that it improperly spied on Mainers. His case illustrates how difficult it can be to get information about officers who have faced complaints of misconduct.

The police department could not provide any discipline records for Minkowsky, meaning there is no public record describing the outcome of the personnel investigation that preceded his resignation. The allegations are public, however, because the woman who said Minkowsky threatened her detailed them in court. She also reported his alleged harassment to the Auburn Police Department, which provided the Bangor Daily News with documents related to its investigation.

James Minkowsky

Minkowsky denied having harassed or intimidated either of the women who complained against him. “Both incidents are blown way out of proportion,” said his attorney, Lenny Sharon.

Minkowsky said he could not answer specific questions about his separation agreement or why he remained on leave until his resignation date, but said that he had always planned to retire when he became eligible for retirement benefits.

When asked about the complaints against Minkowsky, Ed Barrett, Lewiston’s city administrator at the time, said the separation agreement “brought the incident to a conclusion” but referred other questions to the current police chief.

“There are limits to what we can talk about in terms of employees,” Barrett said. “I’m going to keep my mouth shut.”

Current Lewiston Police Chief Brian O’Malley did not respond to a request for an interview.

Michael Bussiere, Lewiston’s police chief at the time, who is now the assistant chief of the Richardson Police Department in Texas, referred questions to current Lewiston officials.

In April 2013, a year before a woman filed a protection from abuse order against Minkowsky, a different woman complained to the Lewiston police in a three-page written statement that Minkowsky would not leave her alone following their breakup. The woman provided a copy of her complaint to the BDN but declined to be interviewed for a story. She and the other woman who filed a protection from abuse order a year later did not know each other.

The woman who filed the three-page complaint told police after she broke off her two-year relationship with Minkowsky in 2012 because of his heavy drinking, he “did not accept the break-up and pestered me for over a year.” She told him repeatedly that their relationship was over, but he did not respect her requests for him to stop contacting her, she wrote. He also continued to contact her family, she said.

“Not since high school have I ever had a person keep popping up after such repeated attempts from me to cut off all contact,” she said, writing that all she wanted was for him to leave her and her family alone.

She also reported experiencing a series of unsettling events. She suspected Minkowksy was involved but couldn’t prove it, she said.

Twice, in April and around August 2012, a gold car followed her on the highway. “He would get in front of me and slow down to 30 mph, get next to me but stay in my blind spot, I would speed up and he [would] stay only a few inches from my bumper, then get in front of me and not let me pass,” she wrote.

The first time, “I could see it was Jim but didn’t want to make waves,” she wrote. The second time, “the man covered his face as he passed me.” She didn’t get the license plate number, so she didn’t report it at the time.

In March 2012, someone egged her house. That May, she came home to find her basement doors pushed open. A few times that summer and fall, she went to leave for work to find that the mirrors in her car had been adjusted since she last drove it, and her drivers’ seat had been pushed back, she wrote.

The department said aside from Minkowsky’s separation agreement, “any other records or documents within the scope of the request are confidential personnel records which the Police Department is prohibited from releasing” under Maine’s personnel records statute, which makes complaints against police confidential. It remains unclear whether the department acted on her suggestion to investigate her concerns and, if it did, what the outcome of that investigation was.

Minkowsky provided a different characterization of their break-up. They had “cordial” communications afterward, and he “reacted with astonishment” when one of his superiors told him that the woman had asked that he not contact her again, his lawyer said. He denied following her on the highway or being involved in any of the incidents that occurred after breaking up.

The Lewiston Police Department is photographed in this file photo. Credit: Callie Ferguson / BDN

Second complaint

Almost exactly a year after a woman first raised concerns with the Lewiston police about Minkowsky allegedly following her on the highway, a second woman with whom he had a sexual relationship accused him of using his law enforcement position to intimidate her.

The woman wrote in a court statement that he “intimidated” her into having sex with him by “placing his gun and badge on the chair.” She claimed he told her he was “above the law” and “can get away with anything” because of his job as a police officer, according to the statement she filled out when she applied for a temporary protection from abuse order against him on April 10, 2014. Minkowsky threatened to expose her whereabouts to her ex-husband, whom she was hiding from because he had abused her, she said, and Minkowsky contacted her workplace to accuse her of stalking him. The BDN does not name victims of domestic violence.

A judge granted the temporary protection from abuse order, which doesn’t mean the allegations were deemed true, just that the matter moved forward to a hearing.

Minkowsky denied the woman’s allegations and Sharon, his attorney, said he felt confident they would convince a judge to dismiss the case at the hearing, May 9, 2014.

But the case never went before a judge. The woman decided to withdraw her request the day of the hearing when she saw that members of the press arrived to cover it, said her lawyer, Lucia Chomeau Hunt. Her client did not feel comfortable talking about her experience knowing it would draw media attention, she said.

So instead, that same day, after withdrawing her request for a protection from abuse order, the woman went to the Auburn Police Department and asked for a cease-harassment notice against Minkowsky. The notice — which police served on Minkowsky on June 7, 2014, according to a copy of the notice — acts as a written warning for people not to contact someone, and it allows the police to arrest them if they violate that warning.

By the day of her court hearing, the woman had already been in touch with the Auburn police because she feared Minkowsky may have violated the temporary protection order during the month it had been in place, according to documents obtained by the BDN through a public records request. The woman had turned over a text message that Minkowsky allegedly sent to someone where he asked about the kind of car she drove and made statements that made her feel threatened.

While investigating her claims, the Auburn Police Department learned the Maine attorney general’s office was taking over the investigation, according to a police report. The scope of the investigation, and the outcome, are not clear, but Minkowsky was not arrested.

Minkowsky said he never contacted the woman after the cease harassment order, and claimed that she continued to send him text messages, prompting him to seek a cease harassment notice against her that summer. The Monmouth Police Department said it had no record of him doing so.

James Minkowsky retired from the Lewiston Police Department in December 2014. Credit: Callie Ferguson / BDN

Leaving Lewiston

It isn’t entirely clear how the Lewiston Police Department handled the allegations against Minkowsky.

On April 10, 2014, the day the woman filed for the temporary protection from abuse order, the department placed Minkowsky on administrative leave, according to the city’s human resources department. The next month, after she withdrew it, his status switched to medical leave, which remained in place until his retirement the following December.

Daniel Dube, a Lewiston lawyer who accompanied Minkowsky to a meeting with police officials to check on the status of the department’s personnel investigation into Minkowsky, said the probe “centered on the [protection from abuse order], and then there were some related concerns.”

He couldn’t remember the details clearly because it was seven years ago, though he recalled feeling wary that the city was using the order to unfairly broaden the scope of its inquiry into “every nook and cranny” of Minkowsky’s history, he said. Dube’s involvement in the matter ended after that, and he wasn’t sure how it was resolved.

Minkowsky resigned Dec. 31, 2014, Lewiston police spokesperson Lt. David St. Pierre said. As of March 31, 2021, he has received more than $302,270 in pension benefits, according to the Maine Public Employees Retirement System.

Years later, Minkowsky told his former girlfriend, Lisa-Marie Sasseville, that the city pushed him out because of the post-traumatic stress he was experiencing after a recent deployment to Iraq, she said in an interview. Minkowsky is a Navy veteran who took a leave of absence from the Lewiston Police Department in 2010 and 2011 for a duty tour of Iraq, according to the Lewiston Sun Journal.

Sasseville, a Lewiston dental hygienist, dated Minkowsky from mid-2017 to January 2020. She didn’t experience any of the harassment described by the two women who complained about him to the Lewiston police, though his drinking was one of the reasons for their breakup, she said.

The Maine Information and Analysis Center, where Minkowsky now works, operates as an information-sharing hub between local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Minkowsky is an intelligence officer with the New England High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federal anti-drug trafficking program that assigns agents to work out of local partnering agencies, such as the Maine State Police.

Events in the past year have renewed scrutiny of the Augusta-based unit’s intelligence operations. In May 2020, a state trooper alleged in a whistleblower lawsuit that it had unlawfully spied on civilians, forcing the commissioner of the Maine Department of Public Safety, Michael Sauschuck, to defend the unit’s practices to lawmakers. The department has denied the allegations in the lawsuit.

A month later, in June, a massive hack of internal law enforcement documents spilled some of the unit’s activity into public view, including its surveillance of Black Lives Matter demonstrations that followed the police murder of George Floyd. Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, is now sponsoring a bill to defund the program that will face an uphill battle for passage after lawmakers on the criminal justice committee recommended that the measure not pass the full Maine Legislature.

The state public safety department was not aware of any allegations against Minkowsky surrounding his time in Lewiston, though pre-employment vetting would have been conducted by the federal agency that employs him, said spokesperson Shannon Moss. He had to undergo a fingerprint-based criminal background check to work as a contractor with the Maine Information and Analysis Center, Moss said, which would have alerted his employer to a crime but not to previous employment matters. Minkowsky has not been charged with a crime.

Jay Fallon, executive director of the New England High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, said contractors such as Minkowsky undergo two rounds of interviews before an executive board approves hiring them. Drug intelligence officers also receive a federal background check to gain the security clearance needed to perform their jobs. Minkowksy was hired in 2016, he said, and “continues to fulfill the terms of his contract.”

Fallon did not respond to specific questions about whether he or the hiring board knew about the allegations that preceded Minkowsky’s departure in Lewiston.

There is danger in giving law enforcement officers second chances because they wield so much power in their jobs, said Maria Haberfeld, a professor of police science and criminal justice administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

“One of the problems that I see in American law enforcement is the decentralized nature of American policing that allows police officers to move from one department to another even if they were involved in what we refer to as conduct unbecoming,” Haberfeld said.

Federal agencies tend to have a more rigorous hiring process than local agencies, but they could still encounter barriers to learning about prospective hires if personnel records are shielded or previous employers aren’t able to discuss people’s work history, she said.

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Callie Ferguson

Callie Ferguson is an investigative reporter for the Bangor Daily News. She writes about criminal justice, police and housing.