MACHIAS, Maine — The Maine Sheriffs’ Association agreed Thursday to investigate concerns raised about Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross revealing to his friend the Rev. Robert Carlson that he was under investigation.
Carlson took his own life within hours of speaking with Ross twice by phone.
Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith says he will end his affiliation with the Maine Sheriffs’ Association if Ross continues as the group’s president.
Smith said he is concerned about what he terms Ross’ “unethical conduct” in informing Carlson that he was under investigation by state police for alleged child sex abuse. Ross and Carlson, who jumped to his death from the Penobscot Narrows Bridge on Nov. 13, 2011, were longtime friends.
Ross said Thursday evening that Smith is “misinformed” and “wrong” in his allegations of ethical misconduct. Ross said he never shared with Carlson any specifics of the investigation beyond telling him that, until it had run its course, Carlson would have to relinquish his public access to the county jail as a member of the jail’s board of visitors.
“If I had failed to act, I would have been in dereliction of duty, as the safety of the inmates is one of my major responsibilities as sheriff,” he said. “There were no details shared, not who was investigating or for what. I just told him there was [an anonymous] letter of complaint that was widely circulated and that I would have to restrict his access. I told Bob that I could not reveal any details; that would be improper.”
The Waldo County Sheriff’s Department, which investigated Carlson’s death, issued a report Wednesday that indicated Ross had called Carlson about the investigation “because he was a very good friend and he did not want [Carlson] to be blind sided.” The report does not mention that Ross was concerned about Carlson’s access to the jail.
But Waldo County Sheriff Scott Story told the BDN on Thursday that it apparently was an oversight that Ross’ concerns about Carlson’s jail access were not mentioned in the report.
Story said he was at the scene on Nov. 13 when Ross showed up at the Penobscot Narrows Bridge just before Carlson’s body was recovered. At that time, Story said Ross informed him about the investigation into Carlson and also told him about having informed Carlson about it. Story said that Ross explained to him that morning that he had felt obligated to tell Carlson he was under investigation because he wanted to limit Carlson’s visits to the jail, which he had access to as a member of the jail’s board of visitors.
Story said he was just at the scene to observe and he assumed that Ross also later relayed the same information to the detectives investigating the case, but apparently that did not happen.
Story said he wanted to set the record straight because he was upset with the way some members of the media were making it sound like Ross had changed his story.
“I know some people are going to say it’s just a sheriff protecting another sheriff, but that’s not the case,” Story said. “I am a man of integrity and these are the facts.”
On Thursday, Ross said the statements he gave to state police investigators after Carlson’s suicide were “very emotional.”
“I was in tears,” he said. “We had just pulled his body out of the water.”
Ross claims Smith is more interested in creating “a media event” with his allegations than being a champion for law enforcement ethics.
“I don’t respect him for what he does with the media,” Ross said. “I’ve crossed no ethical lines. I have done nothing in any way that interfered with an investigation.”
At a meeting in Vassalboro on Thursday, the sheriffs attending agreed that the association would conduct an inquiry into Ross’ conduct, a step required by the group’s bylaws when a member raises a complaint about another member. The three-member inquiry board is being headed by Hancock County Sheriff Bill Clark, who could not be reached Thursday afternoon for comment. Other members will include Cumberland Country Sheriff Kevin Joyce and Knox County Sheriff Donna Dennison.
Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty, who is the association’s first vice president, said Ross attended and conducted Thursday morning’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting but left the meeting when Smith’s concerns were discussed. Liberty said he expects the investigation being coordinated by Clark will require a week.
In an email sent late Wednesday night to Maine Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Mary-Anne LaMarre, Smith said he is “calling for the removal of Sheriff Ross as president of the Maine Sheriffs’ Association.”
“Sheriff Ross clearly violated ethical standards by tipping off a sexual [predator],” Smith said in his email. “If Sheriff Ross does not step down, I will resign my association with MSA.”
Smith said Thursday that Ross should not have tipped Carlson about the investigation.
“If you’re investigating someone, they know it or in some situations you are required to tell them they are being investigated,” Smith said. “But it’s standard that you not inform people that they are under investigation by other agencies. That’s not normal.”
Smith took exception to a statement made Wednesday by Deputy Attorney General William Stokes in which Stokes said Ross didn’t violate any laws in tipping off Carlson.
“Stokes’ explanation of this is beyond belief,” Smith said Thursday.
Stokes said Thursday that Ross made a “judgment call” in deciding to speak with Carlson. “Whether you agree with it or not, no laws were violated,” Stokes said.
Aroostook County Sheriff Jim Madore, a past president of the Maine Sheriffs’ Association, said Thursday that Smith is entitled to his opinion.
“I know Glenn Ross,” Madore said. “And I know that, if the investigating agency, which in this case is the criminal investigation division of the state police, would come forth and say that Sheriff Ross hindered their investigation, I know that Glenn Ross would step down as president of the association.”
The state police investigation into the sex abuse allegations against Carlson is continuing and should be completed in the next month, the lead investigator, Maine State Police Sgt. Jeffrey Love, said earlier this week.