The former Fryeburg police chief lied to a Maine State Police trooper during a 2018 criminal investigation, impairing his ability to testify as a credible witness in court and therefore perform the duties of his job. But he continued as chief until he faced a personnel investigation for a separate instance of alleged misconduct this spring and resigned last month, according to public documents and interviews with town and police union officials.
While no one was willing to publicly say why former Chief Joshua Potvin was investigated, the Bangor Daily News confirmed that he had experienced problems in the past that, until now, have not been widely disclosed.
On March 18, the Teamsters Union Local 340 filed a complaint against Potvin with town officials on behalf of four members of the Fryeburg police department, said business agent Traci St. Clair. She declined to describe the allegations because, since bringing the complaint to the town, she has also provided it to other agencies that investigate police misconduct and doesn’t want to publicly discuss the details out of respect for Potvin’s due process rights, she said.
In response, the town hired a Yarmouth consulting firm to conduct a personnel investigation of the chief during April and May, paying more than $10,000 to produce a report of its findings, according to an invoice provided to the BDN.
To the union officers’ displeasure, Potvin remained on the job until the firm reached the end of its review. When it did, on May 18, town officials placed the chief on paid administrative leave while they contemplated “whether any discipline was warranted,” Town Manager Katie Haley said.
Before officials could decide whether to discipline him, he resigned, she said.
“Again, not saying there would have been discipline or would not,” Haley said.
Asked if Potvin resigned to avoid discipline, his attorney, Jonathan Goodman, said, “I don’t know if I can answer that. … I want to answer your question but respect everybody’s privacy. He was not disciplined or threatened that, ‘Well, this is what’s going to happen if you don’t retire.’”
Potvin gave his two-weeks notice on July 17, nearly two months after the outside investigator completed its probe. The day before, he signed an agreement with the town that allowed him to leave with $27,500, which was a combination of wages, unused benefits and attorney’s fees. It bars either side from speaking about the terms of the agreement or making disparaging remarks about the other, and it requires the town manager to answer questions about his departure by saying he resigned voluntarily.
Likewise, the town is prohibited from releasing the report it commissioned to investigate the chief, due to a Maine law that keeps confidential nearly all personnel records related to public officials. The exception is when an official is disciplined, which didn’t happen in this case.
The quiet and drawn-out handling of the process frustrated the union officers who complained, said St. Clair and the Teamsters, and ultimately spurred them to forward the complaint to outside agencies.
The union also used the local press to pressure the town to act. At first, it was bothered that the town didn’t place the chief on leave while he was under investigation. Then, after he was, weeks went by without the town acting on the investigation results, St. Clair said.
By July, the union was tired of waiting for a resolution, and St. Clair told the Conway Daily Sun — which was first to report that Potvin was being investigated internally — that she had provided the union complaint to other investigative agencies that oversee police, without specifying which agencies. Potvin gave his notice the following week.
Andrew Robinson, the district attorney for Oxford County, told the BDN that his office had a copy of the complaint but could not release it because it is being investigated, and Maine law keeps materials confidential that are part of active criminal investigations.
Potivin, who was hired in 2014, didn’t respond to two messages seeking comment. His attorney, Goodman, downplayed the idea that his client left his job to avoid punishment or scandal. He wouldn’t say whether the personnel investigation cleared or substantiated the complaints against his client, citing confidentiality laws, but said Potvin believed the complaints weren’t “warranted.”
“While this was all playing out, he got a job offer in the private sector that was really attractive, and he just felt like it was the right time to retire and move on,” his attorney said.
But even without a transparent accounting of what happened this spring, the BDN found that the chief had faced problems in the past.
In July 2018, Potvin lied to a state trooper who was investigating an alleged domestic violence assault in Fryeburg, according to a police report of the incident. The victim had been at Potvin’s house before she was allegedly assaulted by her ex-husband, but Potvin repeatedly told the trooper he had been home alone.
The chief later admitted to the officer that he hadn’t been honest because “he did not want his name tied up in this investigation,” according to the police report. He had also been drinking and driving that night, he reportedly told the trooper, who captured the exchange on his cruiser’s dash cam. Potvin believed his prior comments about the woman were “off the record,” according to the police report.
The local district attorney’s office considered the conduct damaging enough that it could impair Potvin’s credibility as a witness should he ever be called to testify in court, said Robinson, the district attorney.
When prosecutors bring charges against someone, they are required to turn over any evidence that could point to the defendant’s innocence, including information that suggests the police officers who investigated the alleged crime aren’t trustworthy.
The information is called Giglio material, referring to the name of a 1972 Supreme Court case, and it’s incumbent on prosecutors to keep track of the officers in their jurisdiction who have any history that would require disclosure. For that reason, Giglio impairments can make certain police officers a liability, hampering or even putting an end to their careers.
Potvin was not charged as a result of his statements. He didn’t lie under oath, and there wasn’t any other evidence beyond his admission that he’d been driving under the influence, Robinson said, but “we believed there was a Giglio issue.”
Goodman, Potvin’s attorney, did not respond to follow-up questions about his client’s Giglio impairment.
The district attorney’s office doesn’t typically share Giglio material with the public, but it did in this instance because the BDN presented police documents that raised concerns about Potvin’s honesty and seemed to constitute a Giglio matter. Speculation of Potvin’s Giglio impairment had circulated within the community, including within his own department, but no one had been able to confirm it.
“I even have other agencies we cover questioning it,” St. Clair said. “It’s been a heavily discussed question.”
Correction: This story previously referred to the union as Teamsters Union Local 320. It is Teamsters Union Local 340.