An Oxford County sheriff’s deputy was fired Wednesday after an internal probe into a 2016 incident in which the deputy allegedly shot off the tip of his finger with his service weapon after spending most of St. Patrick’s Day drinking while off duty.

An official says his labor union will challenge the firing of Stephen Witham, above, who was the only K-9 handler at the sheriff’s office.

Stephen Witham, the only deputy trained to handle the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office K-9, was fired because of the March 2016 incident, said Sheriff James Theriault.

He said the incident was not fully substantiated at the time because the former sheriff, Wayne Gallant, who is now under investigation by federal authorities, failed to order a follow-up and internal investigation.

“The administration at that time never did any reports or anything to that effect and the doctor said it didn’t look like it was a gunshot wound, but we have witnesses that heard the shot and he admitted to the weapon going off,” Theriault said.

A spokesman for the labor union that represents the deputy, however, has disputed the allegations and said the union plans to file a grievance and take the firing to arbitration, if necessary.

“There was a quick investigation done and no evidence of a gunshot discharge or a wound was found,” said Ray Cote, business agent for Teamsters Local 340. “A member of the sheriff’s department went back to Deputy Witham’s home, found blood on the floor of the garage near the garage door, did not find a shell casing, powder burns or bullet. There was nothing to indicate that he hurt himself with his gun.”

Cote said Witham reported the injury immediately and told his superiors that because of how much he had to drink, he wasn’t sure how he injured himself and suggested he may have caught the finger in the track of an overhead garage door. Cote said the sergeant on duty that night conducted a brief investigation, and it was determined the injury was not from a gunshot wound. Cote laid the decision not to investigate further at the feet of Gallant.

Former sheriff Wayne Gallant is accused of failing to fully probe a deputy’s gun incident.

“He ran things the way he wanted to run things and he didn’t care what the standards were,” Cote said of Gallant.

Since the injury, Witham has sought counseling for his drinking problem and has received positive performance reviews, Cote said.

Witham’s firing is the latest setback for the sheriff’s office, which has faced increased scrutiny since Gallant resigned in December amid allegations of sexual misconduct involving members of the department and private citizens. Gallant and his former chief deputy, Hart Daley, also are the focus of an FBI investigation into the destruction of department documents and other records.

Witham’s firing reflects the new sheriff’s mandate to clean up a department he found in disarray. As part of the process, Theriault said, he hired a former state trooper, James Urquhart, to evaluate internal policies and conduct internal investigations as Theriault saw fit.

Witham started his law enforcement career with the Paris Police Department and had been with the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office since 2014. He received his K-9 certification in November.

Theriault said he plans to recommend that the county disband the K-9 program for now.

“It’s not the dog’s fault,” he said, “but I don’t feel that we can afford to train a new handler at this time.”

When Witham was placed on paid administrative leave a little more than three weeks ago, a Franklin County sheriff’s deputy took possession of the dog, named Samson, Theriault said.

Witham’s termination became official Wednesday when the Oxford County Commission voted unanimously to uphold Theriault’s decision to fire him after a four-hour closed-door discussion.

Commissioners are now drafting a final disciplinary letter detailing the grounds for termination. That letter will be available to the public when finalized.

The termination was based on a number of policy violations, Theriault said. “Some were serious and some weren’t as serious, but altogether we felt that it warranted the dismissal,” he said.

In February, as part of an unrelated report, the Sun Journal asked for disciplinary records for all Oxford County patrol officers and received one for Witham dated Feb. 1, 2017.

That record, drafted by former chief deputy Daley, detailed that Witham “failed to submit or complete police reports in general” and failed to timely complete a crash and criminal incident report for an accident on July 11, 2016, involving drugs. The report wasn’t filed until Jan. 10, 2017.

According to county records, Witham’s “failure to complete and submit reports was discovered through a request for the crash report by a citizen/insurance company.”

As part of that discipline, Witham’s supervisors started monitoring his report writing on a weekly basis to ensure he completed them on time.

Theriault said the incident was considered among the less serious policies and procedures Witham that violated.

Theriault was appointed interim sheriff in February, three months after Gallant resigned.

Last November, Gallant admitted that he had sent a sexually explicit cellphone photo, taken at the sheriff’s office while he was in uniform, to a woman whom he has refused to identify. The same day, he stepped down from his position as head of the Maine Sheriffs’ Association, saying that by sending the photo, “I bring discredit to myself, to my uniform, my badge and the Maine Sheriffs’ Association.”

At the time, the sheriff was under investigation by the Oxford County Commission after reports of two separate complaints of misconduct were made to county officials.

In one complaint, Gallant is alleged to have sent multiple sexually explicit photographs of himself to a male deputy’s girlfriend and asked that Gallant, the deputy and the woman have sex together. When the deputy rebuffed the offer, Gallant allegedly threatened his job.

In the second, Gallant is alleged to have typed a message on a cellphone indicating he wanted to perform oral sex on a male employee, and then showed the person what he had typed.

Gallant has steadfastly denied that he sexually harassed any department employee or threatened anyone with termination in connection with solicitation for sex.

But two weeks ago, during a hearing in a domestic violence assault case against Oxford County Deputy Brian Landis, who has been on unpaid administrative leave since June 2017, Chief Deputy Christopher Wainwright testified under oath that Gallant had contacted Dawn Landis before, during and after her husband’s arrest, and that Gallant shared privileged personnel information about Brian Landis with her. According to Wainwright, the FBI is looking into Gallant’s contact with Dawn Landis, including whether he solicited sex from her and Brian Landis.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MattByrnePPH

Judith Myer can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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