How we wrote the Lawmen Off Limits series
In late 2019, the Bangor Daily News’ Maine Focus team began investigating a systemic lack of accountability among Maine’s sheriffs.
We began with Wayne Gallant, the former Oxford County sheriff who sent explicit photos of himself to his employees and others, and solicited them for sex. But no one had the authority to place the sheriff on leave while he was investigated internally and by the FBI in 2017, allowing him to allegedly destroy evidence. He kept his certification as a law enforcement officer.
Our reporting combined previously untold stories of people who had experienced the sheriff’s unwanted advances with thousands of pages of records requested under the Maine Freedom of Access Act. The records and interviews allowed us to piece together an account of the financial and reputational damage the sheriff had caused his community, illuminate the lack of available repercussions for the state’s top law enforcement officers, and reveal why the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, which certifies officers, has never punished an officer for sexual harassment.
To look beyond western Maine, we requested discipline records from the 16 sheriff’s offices to provide the first-ever statewide look at misconduct at the county level. In analyzing 1,300 pages of digital files, we found that a third of the records documenting serious discipline didn’t contain enough information to understand what had happened, even when an officer was fired. The lack of detail about misconduct means the public can’t know whether discipline is equitable across offices and violations.
We also requested officer certification records from the criminal justice academy. Comparing them with the discipline records allowed us to see that county officers had kept their certifications despite repeatedly lying to their supervisors, belittling an inmate based on his disabilities and ethnicity, and sexually harassing their colleagues and prisoners. In other states where the police certifying body has more power, the officers likely would have lost their licenses.
The team behind
Three journalists primarily worked on this series: Investigative editor Erin Rhoda, and investigative reporters Josh Keefe and Callie Ferguson. Politics editor Michael Shepherd contributed reporting.
Linda O’Kresik took photos; Natalie Williams and Coralie Cross made graphics; Natalie Williams and Lindsay Putnam designed the stories for web. Becky Bowden designed them for print. Dan MacLeod provided editing guidance, and Todd Benoit supervised the project overall. The series would not have been possible without funding support from the Pulitzer Center.
To contact the reporting team, email firstname.lastname@example.org.