The Maine Capitol Police is being run by its second in command, prompting speculation that its embattled chief has been put on administrative leave after he promoted far-right falsehoods about masks and President Joe Biden’s election victory.
The Department of Public Safety confirmed in a statement Tuesday that Lt. Robert Elliot is now leading the agency, which oversees security at the state Capitol complex.
Citing advice from the Office of the Attorney General, the statement does not confirm that Chief Russ Gauvin has been placed on administrative leave while his social media posts are investigated.
“Because this is an ongoing personnel related matter, the Office of the Attorney General has advised that Maine statute prohibits the Department from discussing it further,” the statement read.
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Gauvin last week apologized for those posts after they were uncovered by Mainer, an alternative news publication based in Portland.
More than 70 state lawmakers signed a letter to Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck saying that their trust in Gauvin to protect the Capitol has been diminished.
Gauvin’s posts promoted some of the same conspiracy theories that inspired Trump extremists to storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. They mocked the use of masks as a means of preventing the spread of COVID-19, questioned the validity of Biden’s victory and expressed sympathy for the views of a former Maine police officer who called for violence against Black Lives Matter protesters.
The posts have since been deleted, as has Gauvin’s account on the now-defunct Parler, a social media site shut down after it was used to organize and document the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
In a statement, Gauvin said the posts were not a reflection of his commitment to protecting the Capitol.
“In response to an article that came out today, I recognize that several posts that l have shared, commented on, or reacted to in a personal capacity can be seen as inconsistent with my professional responsibilities,” Gauvin said. “My focus has always been to be fair and support law enforcement professionals. I certainly never intended for my social media account to ever bring my commitment to fair and professional law enforcement into question. I apologize for giving this impression and have removed my personal social media accounts. I want to assure Maine people of my continued commitment to upholding the laws of the State of Maine, the policies of Maine government, and to protecting the safety and welfare of all its people. As Chief of Capitol Police, and as a longtime law enforcement officer, I take seriously my duty to uphold our laws, to do so in a fair and impartial way, and to protect the Capitol and our people.”
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In a separate statement, Gov. Janet Mills said the posts were concerning and that Gauvin is under review.
“Chief Gauvin’s apology is warranted, and he has assured us of his commitment to upholding his duties and responsibilities, regardless of any personal beliefs. We are troubled and concerned by what we have read and have asked that the matter be reviewed through existing personnel process to determine whether any State policies were violated,” she said.
The Maine Capitol Police oversee security of the State House and Capitol complex.
Security has tightened in recent days amid concerns that armed far-right extremists might protest Biden’s pending inauguration.
The Maine Department of Public Safety is overseeing security of the Capitol complex over the next few days.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.