A former captain with the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office who was fired after an internal probe into his political activity is now suing in federal court, seeking his old job and back pay over allegations that the county government unfairly dismissed him and then failed to follow through with a promise to give him a new job as a full-time court security officer.

Dennis Picard, of Troy, who was also a longtime Waterville police officer, became assistant jail administrator with Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office on July 15, 2013, and he later became captain of the law enforcement division of the sheriff’s office. However, Picard was put on administrative leave in October 2014 pending an internal investigation into political activity regarding a Somerset County sheriff’s election and then was fired in late November.

The lawsuit says Picard was fired “in retaliation for engaging in political speech and/or for his association with his spouse, Sharon Picard, who engaged in political speech protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

Picard and his wife supported Kris McKenna, a Waterville police officer and a longtime friend, who was challenging Somerset County Chief Deputy Dale Lancaster for the open position of sheriff in November 2014.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel later rejected a federal complaint filed by Sharon Picard that alleged Lancaster had violated the federal Hatch Act by using his position with the sheriff’s office to campaign.

Dennis Picard appealed his firing and, as a result of a negotiated settlement, resigned as captain of the law enforcement division and was re-employed by the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office as a part-time court security officer working primarily at Waterville District Court. At the time, Kennebec County Administrator Robert Devlin said Picard would become a full-time employee again, as would several other part-time court security officers, when the new Capital Judicial Center opened in March in Augusta.

Although Picard worked at the judicial center, he never became a full-time officer.

Earlier this month, Picard, through attorney Maria Fox, sued the county and the sheriff’s department in Waldo County Superior Court.

“The agreement was that he would work as a part-time employee without benefits until March 2015, at which time he would become full-time deputy marshal in March 2015, and his sick time and retirement benefits would be reinstated up to his full-time status,” the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, Picard tried to rescind his earlier resignation and sought a hearing before the Kennebec County commissioners and was denied both in early June.

The attorney for the defendants, Peter T. Marchesi, removed that lawsuit to federal court last week, seeking a jury trial there. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge George Z. Singal and referred to Magistrate Judge John C. Nivison.

On Wednesday, Picard’s attorney, Fox, said via email, “Mr. Picard’s claims can be pursued equally in state or federal court because, in addition to state law claims, he has asserted the denial of federally protected due process and first amendment rights. He believes in our system of justice — at the state and federal level — and he looks forward to advancing his rights in federal court.”

In the lawsuit, Picard is seeking reinstatement to his former post as captain of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office, back pay and reinstatement of benefits as well as damages for wrongful termination. He maintains that the internal investigation was tainted and says in the lawsuit that Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty encouraged the filing of the Hatch Act complaint.

“As a result of defendants’ conduct, the plaintiff has suffered and (is) continuing to suffer professional and personal injuries, including lost wages and benefits, emotional pain and distress, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, injury to reputation, injury to career, chilling of constitutional and free speech rights, deprivation of professional and career opportunities,” and other losses, it says.

In the meantime, Picard once again has left the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office. Kennebec County Assistant Administrator Terry York said Tuesday that Picard last worked for the county on May 29. Picard was sworn in a few days later as an officer with the Capitol Police, the agency responsible for safety and security at state-owned or controlled properties in Augusta and Hallowell.

Fox, also in Wednesday’s email, said Picard is grateful for the post with the Capitol Police and holds the department in high regard.

“However, it is a position much lower in rank and one that substantially limits his contributions in the law enforcement field given his training, experience and professional aspirations,” she wrote. “He hopes the lawsuit will help clear his name and restore his career at the law enforcement captain level.”

Marchesi has yet to file a response to the allegations in the complaint itself and was unavailable by cellphone on Thursday.

Picard did not respond to emails seeking comment sent directly to him.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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