July 23, 2019
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Former Presque Isle police chief dismisses taxpayer-funded probe as political attack

Courtesy of Nicole Irwin
Courtesy of Nicole Irwin
Matt Irwin

Presque Isle’s former police chief has dismissed a taxpayer-funded investigation of his conduct as a way to “appease a few detractors who have maliciously attempted to destroy [his] campaign” for Aroostook County sheriff.

Former Chief Matt Irwin resigned from the Presque Isle Police Department Sept. 4, saying at the time that he stepped down to concentrate on his campaign to unseat the acting sheriff Shawn Gillen, a Democrat. Irwin is running as a Republican.

Following a Sept. 13 Bangor Daily News story that first reported the investigation, Irwin confirmed in an emailed statement that the city paid a Portland lawyer more than $10,000 this summer to look into complaints against him. He claimed those complaints were “unfounded allegations” lodged by his political opponents, contributing to his decision to resign earlier this month.

[Presque Isle paid $10,000 to investigate its police chief. It won’t release the report.]

Presque Isle City Manager Martin Puckett has refused to release the report outlining the investigation’s findings because it is confidential under Maine’s personnel laws.

Irwin has not responded to multiple interview requests about the investigation or his resignation.

The probe, conducted by attorney William McKinley of the Portland firm Troubh Heisler, began in late June. Six law enforcement sources who were interviewed by McKinley told the BDN it focused on the chief’s “conduct.”

The investigation came one month after a union complaint was filed by a a Presque Isle sergeant who accused Irwin of bullying and harassing him, and called for an investigation of the chief’s conduct. It isn’t clear whether the investigation came as a result of that complaint.

But after the BDN story was published last week, Irwin said in his statement — which he also posted on his campaign’s Facebook page — that the investigation was sparked by multiple complaints about him, although he discounted those complaints as baseless and politically motivated.

“The city was inundated with a multitude of complaints, that were without any merit, but city leadership was overwhelmed and wanted no part of the politics,” he wrote of the investigation.

Irwin did not describe the nature of the complaints but maintained that he didn’t violate any policies or break any laws. The city manager said the city took no final disciplinary action at the conclusion of the investigation.

Irwin called that probe a waste of tax dollars, “instigated by my opponent and his supporters.” But he said it still contributed to his decision to resign.

“It became clear that it was in the best interest of my campaign and the best interest of the City of Presque Isle to resign my position as Police Chief and focus solely on my campaign,” he wrote in his statement.

Puckett declined on Monday to comment on Irwin’s statement.

Acting Sheriff Shawn Gillen called on Irwin to give the city of Presque Isle permission to release the report, saying that he was “at a disadvantage like everyone else” from commenting on the matter while the investigation is still confidential.

“Matt Irwin has the ability to show us or give the City of Presque Isle permission to release it,” he told the BDN. “If it was me I would release the report.”

Every member of the Presque Isle city council has either declined to comment on the investigation, or has not responded to messages seeking comment.

Irwin, who announced his candidacy for sheriff in February, was hired by the former city manager Jim Bennett to become the chief of Aroostook County’s largest city in 2011.

He was previously a commander in the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in Florida, a jurisdiction that includes Orlando and where he earned notoriety for his aggressive tactics investigating the widely publicized Casey Anthony case.

Earlier this summer, he tried to mandate his officers adopt a method for testing deadly street drugs that has been almost universally abandoned for safety reasons. After several officers protested, the city manager intervened and the policy was never implemented.

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