Christopher Wainwright is the sheriff of Oxford County. Credit: Courtesy of Christopher Wainwright

Oxford County Sheriff Christopher Wainwright directed one of his deputies to go easy on a woman he’d cited for a traffic violation and then got angry when the deputy reported the sheriff’s request to a supervisor, according to a leaked audio recording of a phone call obtained by the Bangor Daily News.

Oxford County commissioners have not released details about what happened, but the office disclosed on Thursday that Wainwright had been under investigation. They plan to discuss “an investigation of alleged misconduct by Sheriff Wainwright” at their next meeting, according to their agenda released Thursday, making Wainwright the second sheriff of the county in recent years to face public scrutiny for his behavior.

After the BDN told the sheriff it had the recording, he issued a statement on Friday apologizing for his actions. While he did not commit a crime, he said, he had violated Maine’s law enforcement code of ethics by asking his deputy to show favor toward someone.

“I should never have put my Deputy in that position. His discomfort with my request is understandable in hindsight. He and another deputy reported it through the chain of command, and rightly so. But, this angered me and made me feel betrayed by two deputies who I had ‘taken under my wing,’ and truly care for,” he wrote.

Oxford County Administrator Donald Durrah said he could not comment on personnel matters “until after we have had an opportunity to make a decision based on the facts.”

Executive sessions are closed to the public, but any votes the commissioners take afterward are public. County commissioners do not have any authority to discipline sheriffs, who are elected. They can, however, decide to send a complaint to the governor who can remove a sheriff from office.

“If a decision is rendered, that decision will be made public at that time. I’m sure we will be making a statement at that point,” Durrah said.

The BDN obtained an audio recording showing how a deputy, Tyler Fournier, felt pressured by the sheriff about how to handle a case. In the recording of a phone conversation between Wainwright and Fournier, Wainwright described how he had asked Fournier to go easy on a woman he knew. Fournier had cited her in August for a traffic violation involving an open container of alcohol.

“What I just said to you, unless you heard something differently was, ‘Hey, I don’t know when this goes to court, or it has yet, but if it does, if you could do anything for it, I’d greatly appreciate it,’” Wainwright said in the recording to Fournier.

The deputy described how he had felt uneasy about the request and reported it to his sergeant. In the phone call, Wainwright expressed anger that the deputy had told others in the sheriff’s office. Wainwright also told Fournier that he hadn’t told him to rip up the ticket, but that, if he had, he had the authority to do so because he is the sheriff.

“I can shred any frickin’ traffic ticket I want. You guys work at my discretion,” Wainwright told the deputy, according to the recording. “So there’s no fixing tickets. There’s nothing illegal. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“I don’t work for the county commissioners, and I don’t work for the chief deputy. You all work for me. And if I tell you not to write any fucking tickets ever again, you won’t write any tickets ever again. You know what I’m saying? That’s the sheriff. It’s a constitutional office,” he continued.

Fournier cited Audrey B. Coffin for consuming alcohol in a vehicle on a public way on Aug. 20, 2022. Coffin contested the ticket, which was dismissed on May 3, according to an online summary of court records.

In the call, Wainwright told his deputy that Coffin’s sister had cancer. The sheriff had donated to a July fundraiser for her.

“If [Coffin] was an asshole to you, Tyler, then don’t do a goddamn thing. Advocate to have her frickin’ hung. I don’t care. But it was just, I told you my point. She’s a good person, my experience with her, and if there’s anything you can do, I’d appreciate it,” Wainwright said in the recording.

Contacted by the BDN in April, Coffin said she knew nothing about what was happening at the sheriff’s office and hadn’t heard from anyone in a long time about the ticket. She said she contested the ticket because Fournier cited her for consuming alcohol when he had told her it would be for having an open container.

Asked about her connection with Wainwright, she said, “There really isn’t one. We have just grown up in the community together.”

Instead of turning to Sgt. Timothy Ontengco, Wainwright said Fournier should have asked him questions.

“I just wish you would have said something to me. Versus now it goes up through, and I feel like now people are making a big deal out of something, which it isn’t,” Wainwright said. “I don’t have a boss. So Ontengco complaining to the chief about me is not doing anything. And I have that discretion, if I had wanted to. And I think if I had wanted you to do something, I would have told you directly to do it. I think you know me well enough that way.”

Fournier, who had been hired in May 2021, mostly listened to the sheriff. But in the call he described how the sheriff’s request didn’t feel right.

“I was a little taken aback at it at first because no one’s ever approached me that way before, and I didn’t know what to do,” he said, according to the recording. “I just want to do my job and do it the best that I can.”

In his statement, Wainwright said he called two deputies, whom he didn’t name, on Nov. 7, the day before voters went to the polls to re-elect him.

“I raised my voice to both of them, and I overstated my authority as Sheriff, using inappropriate language and speaking in a tone unbefitting of the leader of a law enforcement agency. My emotions got the best of me, and I acted in a manner that sets a bad example for all of my Deputies and reflects poorly on the Department,” he said.

“I want to publicly apologize to the two Deputies for the way that I spoke to them, and for the position that I put them in by making an inappropriate request for leniency. I want to apologize to the men and women who work for the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office,” he continued. “Finally, I want to apologize to the people of Oxford County. As your Sheriff, I promise you, that in the future I will do better.”

A person familiar with deputies at the sheriff’s office said officers have been aware of the allegations against Wainwright and the internal investigation for a while.

“Staff are fed up with everything. They want all of this to be resolved because they just want to come in and do their job,” said the person who declined to be named, fearing retribution.

“They just want a leader who leads in a positive direction,” the person said. “They’re torn, they’re exhausted, they’re worn out.”

Traci St. Clair, business agent with the Teamsters Local Union No. 340, which represents Oxford County deputies but not the sheriff, declined an interview.

Through St. Clair, Fournier declined to comment.

The Oxford County commissioners have asked the governor to remove a sheriff from office before. But the former sheriff, Wayne Gallant, resigned in December 2017 before then-Gov. Paul LePage could make a decision.

Evidence revealed that Gallant sent nude and graphic pictures of himself or suggestive messages to at least five people: two employees, one of whom was facing criminal charges; two members of the community, one of whom had been a prisoner; and an officer at another law enforcement agency.

Avatar photo

Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda is the editor of Maine Focus, a team that conducts journalism investigations and projects at the Bangor Daily News. She also writes for the newspaper, often centering her work on domestic and...