MACHIAS, Maine — Two days after his wife was arrested on a charge of domestic violence assault, Sheriff Donnie Smith filed a complaint with Maine State Police involving the handling of the incident at his Lubec home.
Smith denies having any problems with the handling of his wife’s arrest, but in response to a request by the BDN for copies of the emails, filed under the state’s Freedom of Access Act, Christopher Parr, an attorney for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said Smith had submitted the complaint in two emails to Maine State Police.
“Both emails appear to be very similar (if not exactly the same) in content, and state at the outset that the writer is making a ‘complaint,’ which relates to the response by Maine State Police officers to an incident that occurred on 20 June 2013,” Parr wrote in an email response Monday.
Details about the complaint remain murky. Parr said the emails are confidential because of a law shielding communications about personnel and disciplinary proceedings from public inspection.
Reached Friday, before the FOAA request was filed, Col. Robert Williams, chief of Maine State Police, said that Smith sent him an email on June 22 that “brought up some operational issues that [Smith] wasn’t pleased with.”
Williams said the emails did in part involve the incident at Smith’s home, but he declined to comment on specifics of their content.
“I really don’t want to get into a shouting match with another public official,” Williams said. “We try hard to be above that.”
The state police chief said he would meet with the sheriff to discuss “the incident,” but said those conversations would not affect the prosecution of Smith’s wife.
Lynne Kelsey-Smith was scheduled to be arraigned in Machias District Court on Monday, but that appearance was postponed.
According to state police, troopers went to the Smith residence in Lubec on June 20 after Kelsey-Smith called to report that her husband had threatened her. After an investigation, troopers determined that the sheriff was the victim and arrested Kelsey-Smith. She was charged in Washington County but brought to Hancock County Jail for reasons that remain unclear but likely have to do with her husband’s supervision of jail officers in Machias.
The sheriff and the state police offered different characterizations of what the emails contain.
Smith said Friday that he had sent an email to Williams but that it did not contain any concerns about his wife’s arrest. He denied making a complaint and said he simply wanted to negotiate a new call-sharing agreement, which outlines how the two agencies share coverage of the county.
“This has nothing to do with the incident at my house,” he said. “That’s not what the colonel and I are going to meet about.”
Smith also said on Friday that he’d be willing to share the email he sent to Williams with the Bangor Daily News, but that he’d first have to make sure he hadn’t deleted it.
By Monday, after the BDN filed the request for a record of the emails, Smith changed his story. During a series of email interviews, he said he was mistaken and that no email exchange with Williams ever took place.
“There has never been an email between me and Col. Williams,” he wrote. “Sorry for [the] confusion.”
On Monday evening, Parr shed some light on the confusion: The emails were sent to Maine State Police Lt. Roderick Charette, with a request that the messages be forwarded to Williams. So Smith was technically correct — he never emailed the colonel directly.
When asked specifically whether he had sent Williams an email indirectly — as Parr said was the case — Smith did not answer. He also did not respond to an inquiry about whether he had made any allegations of trooper misconduct, by email or otherwise.
“For the last time I had conversation with the COL. and the Lt. about operation issues between the [Maine State Police] and [Sheriff’s Office],” he wrote Monday night. “The COL, and the Lt. discussed this by phone on Friday and cleared them up. Nothing else.”
An hour later, Smith sent a final addendum:
“The State Police handled everything the way they should at my home on that Thursday night,” he wrote. “The Sheriff’s Office has a great relationship with the State Police and we want to keep that that way.”
Judith Meyer, vice president of the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition and managing editor for the Lewiston Sun-Journal, said Monday that despite the Freedom of Access Act, the public still must rely on the honesty of its government in obtaining documents.
“Part of the problem about asking for public records is we have to trust our public officials not only to give them to us, but to tell us whether they exist at all,” she said. Smith’s changing story “doesn’t sound like good faith,” she said.
“It’s disturbing because a lot of people might just throw up their hands and walk away. That’s not the point of the law. The point is that when you ask for a record, you get a fair response,” she said.
Smith’s musing about whether he may have deleted the email also is troubling, Meyer said. The attorney general and others have ruled that email messages fall under the same rules as paper documents. In many cases, that means they must be retained for at least a year.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.