ELLSWORTH, Maine — Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith has fired his chief deputy, Michael St. Louis, according to county officials.
St. Louis was notified of his dismissal Friday, according to Washington County Commission Chairman Chris Gardner.
“I can confirm that he was let go,” Gardner said Sunday. “He was dismissed pursuant to the sheriff’s authority according to statute. I would decline further comment, which should be left to the sheriff.”
St. Louis’ dismissal was also confirmed by County Manager Betsy Fitzgerald. Attempts to contact Smith and St. Louis were unsuccessful on Sunday.
According to BDN archives, St. Louis has been with the sheriff’s office since at least 1994. Before that, he was a reserve officer in the Machias Police Department. Smith appointed him Chief Deputy in 2007.
The reason for St. Louis’s firing was not immediately clear Sunday, but a source within county government said the decision has caught county employees by surprise.
“The whole thing just smells really bad,” said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation for speaking to the media. “The chief deputy has always stuck by the sheriff. Everybody in the county, everybody, is going ‘Holy cow, what the hell is that?’ Everybody is just floored.”
According to Maine law, chief deputies serve at the will of their respective sheriff. The hiring and firing of the chief deputy is not subject to review by county commissioners, as is the case with regular full- and part-time deputies.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office has been at the center of several controversies in recent months, including alleged misdeeds by a corrections officer, missing money from a jail account and an improper deputy commission.
However, there’s no indication that St. Louis’ dismissal is connected to any of those incidents.
In December, a corrections officer who claimed he was assaulted in October outside the county jail in Machias resigned hours before county commissioners were scheduled to review Smith’s allegation that the officer had staged the attack.
The county is preparing to review a Waterville attorney’s investigation into the alleged misappropriation of an inmates’ benefit fund. Smith has contended that the alleged malfeasance could have affected thousands of dollars, and has suspended with pay the top two jail administrators — Capt. Robert Gross, the jail’s longtime supervisor, and Sgt. Karina Richardson, the jail’s clerk — for the duration of the investigation.
Smith was at the center of controversy recently when it was revealed he had given a Winter Harbor doctor a “special deputy” ID card that wrongly identified the doctor as a qualified law enforcement officer with the right to carry a concealed weapon, despite the doctor not meeting the legal qualification to be so identified.
That doctor used the ID as a license to carry a concealed weapon after accidentally leaving a loaded Walther 9mm police pistol in the bathroom at Ellsworth’s L.L.Bean outlet, for which the doctor was charged with reckless conduct.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.