The chair of the Washington County Commission has pleaded guilty to a charge of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of intoxicants.
As part of a plea deal with a district attorney, Chris Gardner, 49, will not have to spend time in jail.
Gardner, who also is a reserve patrol officer with the Eastport Police Department, was charged with OUI in Perry on Aug. 27. Because of Gardner’s role in county government and the Eastport Police Department, the case was transferred to Aroostook County, where it was handled by District Attorney Todd Collins.
As part of an agreement with Collins, Gardner got a deferred disposition in exchange for pleading guilty to the OUI charge, Collins and Gardner’s defense attorney, Jeff Davidson, each confirmed. If Gardner has no more legal issues for a year, the OUI charge will be dismissed in exchange for a reckless conduct conviction.
Gardner said Monday in a brief comment that he left it up to Collins and Davidson to reach an agreement on how to resolve the case. He said he wanted to take accountability for the charge and has taken a leave of absence from the Eastport Police Department.
“Obviously, this was an unfortunate event that I wish had never happened,” Gardner said.
Davidson said Monday that with a reckless conduct conviction, Gardner will avoid potential jail time if he ever faces a second OUI charge. If the OUI charge sticks, Gardner will lose his license for 150 days. If he ever had another OUI conviction beyond that, he would have to spend seven days in jail and would lose his license for three years, Davidson said.
For now, the OUI guilty plea will remain in effect. As part of the plea deal, Gardner stays out of jail but has to take a driver education and evaluation course, and has to avoid excessive use of alcohol that results in a blood-alcohol content of 0.05 percent or higher. He also has to donate $400 to a substance abuse counseling program.
“He wanted to accept responsibility and get the matter behind him as long as the sentence was fair and proportionate to others who find themselves in his situation,” Davidson said.
Gardner is scheduled to appear in court in Calais on Sept. 3, 2024, for a final resolution to the charge.
George “Bud” Finch, interim city manager for Eastport, said Monday that the city has been waiting on the outcome of the OUI charge before deciding what to do about Gardner’s status as a reserve officer with the Eastport Police Department. He said Gardner has been “reliable” over the years but has mostly done patrols only to fill in for other officers or during special events such as the city’s Fourth of July parade.
He said the council likely will discuss the matter when it meets on Oct. 11.