NEW GLOUCESTER — A former Maine State Police chief admitted to having sexual contact with a 4-year-old relative over the past several months and turned himself in to the Cumberland County Jail on Monday, the county sheriff said.

Andrew E. Demers, 73, who is charged with unlawful sexual contact with a child younger than 12, was released immediately on $5,000 bail. He faces as much as 10 years in prison and a fine of as much as $20,000.

Sheriff Kevin Joyce said Demers did not contest the allegation. “There was a full admission,” he said.

Joyce said the child was in Demers’ care, and the incidents occurred at his home.

Neighbors of Demers and his wife, Patricia, who live on Bald Hill Road in New Gloucester, said Monday that they were shocked by the allegation, and that the couple are good people and good neighbors.

“I just can’t see it happening,” said Jeffrey Thomas, who has lived down the street from Demers for more than 30 years.

Maine State Police received a tip about the alleged crimes on March 10 and referred it to District Attorney Stephanie Anderson, who asked the sheriff’s office to investigate.

Col. Robert Williams, the current chief of the state police, said Monday that he suggested the sheriff’s office conduct the investigation to “avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.”

Demers was aware of the investigation, and the District Attorney’s Office and his attorney, Walter McKee, arranged for Demers to turn himself in at the jail.

McKee said Monday that he will be “looking into the circumstances” in which Demers made statements to law enforcement officials, including “how he was questioned, where he was questioned and his mental condition at the time.”

Demers didn’t return a call seeking comment Monday afternoon. At his home – a mobile home with a swing set in the back and sleds near the front stairs – the curtains were closed and no cars were in the driveway. No one answered a knock on the door.

Thomas, the neighbor, said his now-grown son used to play at the house with Demers’ grandson, and he and his wife had no concerns about it. “I’m not going to judge the guy just yet,” he said.

His wife, Wanda Thomas, said they see their neighbors a few times a year, always at Christmastime, when the Demerses bring a small gift to their house. “For us, it’s unimaginable,” she said.

The heads of the state police and the sheriff’s office also expressed dismay.

“The state police are stunned at the allegation, and saddened for the victim and their family,” Williams said in a news release.

Joyce said he was shocked and disappointed to learn about the charge. “We as law enforcement officers try to hold ourselves a little higher than we hold the people we protect,” he said.

“For somebody who’s done a great career with the state police and probably did a few of these investigations, you just wonder how and why. How do you do it and, secondly, to one of your loved ones?” he said.

CONTROVERSIES TOWARD END OF CAREER

Although Demers was a decorated member of the state police, his career wasn’t without controversy, particularly in his second and final term as chief.

In 1991, he was criticized for appearing in a television ad in support of widening the Maine Turnpike, the subject of a statewide referendum that fall. Despite opponents’ outcry, the Attorney General’s Office determined there was nothing wrong with his appearance in the ad.

The next year, the state police came under fire for failing to pursue allegations that the founder of the Cole Farms Restaurant in Gray had molested several boys in the 1970s.

After state police dismissed the allegations, saying they were too old, the accuser turned to the District Attorney’s Office, which then investigated and charged Warren Cole with sexually molesting a young boy in 1986 and 1987. Cole was sent to prison in 1992.

State police were accused of failing to pursue the case because of their close relationship with Cole, who hosted dinners for troopers at his restaurant.

Demers admitted that the department mishandled the allegations but denied that it had anything to do with Cole’s relationship with police. A few months later, the department changed its policy to say officers could no longer accept free meals.

Around the same time, state police were being scrutinized for an incident in which a trooper shot a friend of his former wife, a few months after he came close to killing himself with a shotgun. The trooper said his supervisors knew about his near-suicide, and he felt they should have put him on leave.

Demers wouldn’t say why he didn’t take the trooper off the job, citing the confidentiality of personnel matters.

That same year, a state trooper and Somerset County sheriff’s deputies were criticized for storming the cabin of a woman and shooting her to death, after spending 10 minutes negotiating with her to come out of the house.

Demers said there were no grounds for discipline, and the decision incited protests, including one at the State House. The Attorney General’s Office later determined that there was no wrongdoing by the officers, but that they should resign or be dismissed.

Demers retired the next year after 26 years with the state police.

HONORS, AND TV SHOW APPEARANCE

A graduate of Edward Little High School in Auburn, Demers started his career as a military policeman in the Marine Corps. He then served as a police officer in Lewiston for five years before enlisting in the Maine State Police in 1967.

As a patrol officer in the Turner area, he was named trooper of the year two years in a row, 1969 and 1970.

Demers rose through the ranks to field supervisor, then lieutenant. He served as director of the state police tactical unit, then head of training and special services, including canine and underwater recovery teams.

Demers received a citation for bravery for his role in a standoff in Bowdoinham in 1986, in which a man who shot his wife barricaded himself in his house and then set it on fire, while shooting at police. Demers and a trooper went into the burning home, part of which collapsed behind them, found the man with a self-inflicted gunshot wound and dragged him out of the house.

Demers later narrated a re-enactment of the standoff for a 1991 episode of the CBS television show “Top Cops.”

Two months after the incident in Bowdoinham, Demers was involved in another standoff, in which he and four other members of the state police rushed the home of a man in Appleton who had barricaded himself. They apprehended him without injury and all received colonel’s awards.

The next year, he was nominated for chief by Public Safety Commissioner John Atwood.

Atwood declined to comment for this story, as did Craig Poulin, executive director of the Maine State Troopers Association and a former state police chief.

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

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Twitter: @lesliebridgers