The Millinocket town manager who was fired Thursday and the town’s police chief are seeking legal damages for what they say was defamation by a number of local officials, police union representatives and residents in the run-up to John Davis’ termination.
Davis was fired Thursday in a 6-1 vote by the Millinocket Town Council following months of controversy within the town’s police department.
In a notice of claim sent to various defendants, Davis and Chief Craig Worster claim that Deputy Police Chief Janet Theriault as well as her attorney and union representatives sought to harm Worster’s reputation by obtaining his prior employment records and publicly disseminating them even though they provided “not a complete and accurate representation of the underlying situations.”
The notice of claim names four town councilors, Theriault, a handful of residents, officials from the union representing the town’s police officers and the town of Millinocket as defendants.
Davis and Worster have not yet filed a court complaint against the defendants. A notice of claim is the first step in a lawsuit before a formal complaint is filed in U.S. District Court.
Davis had been under fire in recent months over the hiring of Worster in 2019 and accusations that Worster had created a hostile work environment in his time leading the Millinocket Police Department.
Theriault filed an 85-page complaint earlier this year alleging that Worster had bullied, harassed and behaved abusively toward suspects and community members. In the complaint written by an attorney, she also alleged that Worster was responsible for numerous instances of sexual harassment and using Millinocket Police Department resources to eavesdrop on town employees illegally.
She said she was unable to return to work after Worster allegedly treated her abusively in public earlier this year on Feb. 3. That instance, according to the complaint, was the latest in a series of similar incidents with the chief.
Davis, however, recently dismissed the complaint against Worster and decided against disciplining the chief.
Davis’ attorney, Ezra Willey of Bangor, said that his firing was “retaliation” for closing the independent investigation that Theriault, her attorney and a union representative had initiated against Worster.
Theriault’s attorney agreed to the investigator the town hired, Willey said Friday. “It was only after the investigation began to disprove the Deputy Chief’s allegations that she and her team objected to the investigator,” Willey said.
Town councilors had also given Davis a positive performance review this year, Willey said.
After receiving the notice of claim, Lorne Smith, secretary-treasurer for the Teamsters Local Union 340, said that “he never said anything that wasn’t factual” about Worster and Davis. He also said that Davis has had many opportunities to speak with him about the allegations against Worster.
“He was nowhere to be found for a year-and-a-half, and now he wants to talk,” Smith said. “I look forward to engaging him on this.” He added, “It reminds me of a tantrum.”
Theriault’s attorney, Michael Cunniff of Portland, said citizens have a right to petition government authorities over misconduct allegations and that lawsuits meant to quell public participation can be dismissed under Maine law.
Attorneys for the town of Millinocket, Kirk Bloomer and Dean Beaupain, did not immediately return requests for comment.
Smith had written a letter to Millinocket councilors in July, asking them to examine whether what the union called Davis’ failure to appropriately handle the “serious misconduct allegations” made against Worster was cause for the manager’s termination.
The letter also said that Davis had not vetted Worster properly before hiring him in April 2019, and had “failed to address glaring issues about his employment history.”
Four years before being hired as the Millinocket police chief, Worster was placed on administrative leave from his job at the Ridgefield Police Department in Connecticut, according to a document obtained by the union that details an internal affairs investigation that police department conducted.
The investigation found that Worster had consciously chosen to harass certain female employees and that his actions constituted a “pattern of hostile and abusive behavior.” Those actions, according to the investigation, created a hostile work environment. They included telling “sex-oriented stories,” displaying sexually explicit material and engaging in unwelcome physical contact.
From 2016 to 2018, Worster worked for the Wiscasset Police Department in Maine. According to the letter the police union sent to Millinocket town councilors, Worster had also been the subject of disciplinary action in Wiscasset before he eventually resigned.
The notice of claim also names as defendants residents who had circulated a petition this summer calling for Davis’ removal.