Bangor police Lt. Tim Cotton and the Duck of Justice pose for a photo in 2016 at the Van Halen concert on the Bangor Waterfront. Cotton, who made the stuffed wood duck a social media star, has retired after working in law enforcement for more than 30 years. He plans to focus on his writing career. Credit: Courtesy of Tim Cotton

The Duck of Justice still reigns over the Bangor Police Department but the detective who rescued him from a trash bin and turned the stuffed waterfowl into an internet phenomenon has retired after 25 years of keeping the peace in the Queen City.

Lt. Tim Cotton, 59, will continue to post on the duck’s Facebook page while writing a novel. The Bangor Police Department was one of the first in the country to use social media to champion police officers’ interactions with the public along with amusing and sometimes heartwarming stories about how cops make a difference in people’s lives.

Cotton deliberately changed the tone of the department’s Facebook page when he became the public information officer eight years ago.

“We help a lot more people than we arrest,” Cotton said in August 2014 after the page gained national attention.

On a police officer’s average day, very little time is spent putting someone in handcuffs, he said. One minute they might be rescuing an animal, the next hour they might be breaking up a fight or diffusing an argument between neighbors.

Cotton rescued the stuffed wood duck from the trash in the Penobscot County District Attorney’s office. It became the police department’s mascot. The DOJ has been housed underglass in the small museum in the lobby of the police station since it was refurbished in 2017 by a Stockton Springs taxidermist. Mainers and tourists drop in daily to have their pictures taken with the duck.

Stephen King posed with the Bangor Police Department’s Duck of Justice in front of his home in September 2017. Credit: Courtesy of Bangor Police Department.

Cotton, who was born and raised in Lewiston, didn’t set out to be a cop even though his father was an Auburn officer when he was born and his grandfather was the local fire chief. When he was a toddler, Cotton’s father became a minister with the Christian Alliance Ministries Worldwide Church of Jesus Christ. The family moved 19 times before Cotton was 18.

Before going into law enforcement, Cotton worked at Bangor radio stations, including WABI, WZON and the stations owned by Stephen King. He’s not sure why he decided to change careers.

“I don’t have a good story for that,” he said. “I wish I did but there were free uniforms and the hours were better in police work than they were in radio. So, here I am, 34 years later.”

Cotton first worked for the Hampden Police Department beginning in 1988. He moved to the Bangor department in 1997 and moved up the ranks. Cotton retired as the lieutenant of services. Because he got a later start than many of his colleagues, most of his friends in the department already have retired and are devoting time to their grandchildren.

He also has grown frustrated over the past five years with the negative national climate around policing following a series of shootings that gained national attention and with the work itself.

“Over the last 10 years, society has decided they don’t want police involved and yet they call police for each and every issue,” he said. “We’ve taken on that responsibility because there was no one else to call. The mental health issues, the drug issues, the things that we deal with in Bangor on a daily basis are really very frustrating because there’s really no answers and we are a stop gap measure for society.”

Cotton said that once police arrive they “aren’t armed” for the issues a person in crisis is facing, he said. Sometimes, the only way to get people the services they need is to arrest them.

He left the Hampden department with the goal of becoming a detective, which he did in the early 2000s. Cotton’s work on the murder of Heather Fliegelman Sargent, 20, who was eight months pregnant, earned him a spot in the Criminal Investigations Division. Police found Fliegelman Sargent’s body and four dead cats on Monday, Jan. 6, 2003, at the couple’s Bangor residence in the Rainbow Trailer Park on outer Ohio Street.

Her husband, Roscoe Sargent, now 48, is serving a 50-year sentence for her murder at the Maine State Prison in Warren.

While a detective, Cotton partnered with now-Lt. Brent Beaulieu for 13 years. Their successful partnership, especially in interviewing suspects in homicides and other major crimes, often resembled those depicted in popular TV shows.

It wasn’t a good cop/bad cop routine. It was Cotton, a chatterer, and the silent Beaulieu in conversation.

Det. Tim Cotton speaks in court.
During a May 2011 hearing at Penobscot Judicial Center, Bangor Det. Tim Cotton answered questions from Zachary Carr’s defense attorney F. David Walker IV (not pictured) regarding the Bangor Police Department’s witness and suspect interview recording procedures. Credit: John Clarke Russ / BDN

“Tim would just talk and keep people talking, which can be a challenge in itself, because as you are talking, you are trying to think of your next sentence to keep the conversation flowing,” Beaulieu said earlier this week. “I would listen to the actual content and when there was a pause in the conversation, I would confront the inconsistencies.”

Cotton also was the department’s polygraph operator for many years. He often used the so-called lie detector to get information from suspects that later became evidence at trials even though the results of the exams are not admissible in court.

The hardest part of the job that he never got used to were death notifications in homicide cases. The memory of telling the mother of Holly Boutilier that her 19-year-old daughter was murdered in 2019 on the Bangor waterfront in a random act of violence has stuck with him.

Colin Koehler, now 47, is serving a life sentence at the Maine State Prison for stabbing Boutlier to death.

Bangor Police Chief Mark Hathaway praised the retired Cotton for his skills.

Det. Tim Cotton signs books.
Bangor Police detective Tim Cotton signs copies of his new book, “The Detective in the Dooryard,” in 2020 at Left Bank Books in Belfast. Credit: Brent Schanding / BDN

“Tim’s remarkable ability as a polygraph examiner and homicide investigator is only topped by his ability to tell a story, feature the good work of our employees and connect with our community and beyond,” Hathaway said.

In his retirement, Cotton will continue posting to the Duck of Justice’s Facebook page for the police department while pursuing his writing career.

Cotton has published two books — “Detective in the Dooryard: Reflection of a Maine Cop” and “Got Warrants: Dispatches from the Dooryard” — both collections of social media postings. His new book, “Dawn in the Dooryard: Reflections from the Jagged Edge,” a collection of essays and reflections, will be out in November.