Jail worker in gun-terror case fired

Posted Sept. 08, 2009, at 10:23 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — Melina Church, 34, was fired last week from her position as a county jail corrections officer by the Washington County commissioners after a monthlong investigation revealed she had acted in a manner “unbecoming a corrections officer,” Sheriff Donnie Smith confirmed Tuesday.

Smith said eight claims of policy violations had been made against Church, and she was cleared of four.

The policies she was found to have violated included bringing mail to an inmate, bringing books to an inmate, taking pictures of an inmate, and giving out personal information regarding an inmate.

Smith said Church was present at an eight-hour personnel hearing attended by the commissioners regarding the violations in late August. Efforts to reach the commissioners late Tuesday afternoon were unsuccessful.

Church, her children, ages 4 and 12, and her partner, Kevin Merritt, 42, all of Addison, filed a complaint last month against former Sheriff Joseph Tibbetts after an incident that took place Aug. 13 in the blueberry barrens in Columbia.

Church claimed that Tibbetts pulled a gun on her and her family and threatened them while they were in the barrens on a ride to look for bears.

Tibbetts, 61, of Columbia was arrested four days after the incident and charged with criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon, Class C, and threatening display of a weapon, Class D. The Class C charge carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Tibbetts is currently free on bail. His first court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 28.

Smith said Tuesday that Church’s termination had nothing to do with the terrorizing complaint. He said the investigation of Church’s violation of county policy began in early June and was completed and passed on to the commissioners by June 26.

The recommendation to terminate Church was passed on to the county commissioners before the alleged gun incident took place, Smith said.

Smith confirmed that the investigating officer in Church’s case was married to the owner of the blueberry land where Tibbetts was harvesting berries when the alleged gun incident took place.

“That played no role in [Church’s] termination,” Smith said. “Church’s investigation was turned over to the commissioners long before that ever happened.”

sunrisecounty@bangordailynews.net

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