State officials said Tuesday that they are still reviewing whether social media posts by Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin violated state policy.

Lt. Robert Elliot has been in command of the agency that provides security at the State House complex and other state facilities in Augusta for nearly two months since the posts surfaced.

Chief Russell Gauvin, photographed shortly after he was hired as Capitol Police chief in 2006. Photo from Capitol Police Maine Facebook page

Shannon Moss, public information officer for the state Department of Public Safety, and other officials would not say whether Gauvin is on paid leave from his $90,000-a-year government job or otherwise describe his status.

A message to Gauvin’s work email Tuesday generated an automatic reply with instructions to contact Elliot, who deferred comment to Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck, whose department oversees the Capitol Police.

Elliot took over the agency in mid-January after the alternative news publication Mainer published Facebook posts by Gauvin that shared criticism and misinformation about COVID-19 prevention efforts and questioned the outcome of the November elections.

Gauvin’s posts were publicized just as state law enforcement, including his agency, was responding to warnings from the FBI and preparing for possible violent assaults on the Maine State House by extremist groups who embrace former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that he won the November election. The protests did not occur.

Gauvin has deleted the posts and apologized for them.

State lawmakers could become involved in overseeing the agency under a bill that would shift jurisdiction over Capitol Police from the executive branch to the Legislature.

Sponsored by Assistant House Majority Leader Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, the bill was accepted as emergency legislation and is not yet drafted.

Talbot Ross in late January told leaders in both parties that at least 26 other state legislatures control the force that protects them – as does the U.S. Congress. “This is not unprecedented,” she said.

“The Legislature should have a say in its own security, we should be a partner in directing our own safety as well as the safety of those whom we work with and members of the public as they engage with the legislative process,” Talbot Ross said at a meeting of the Legislative Council.

The bipartisan panel, comprised of top lawmakers in both chambers, voted 9-1 to allow her bill to move forward.

Talbot Ross pointed to recent COVID-19 prevention policies and protocols adopted by the council, including a facial-covering requirement for members inside the State House, that are enforced by the Capitol Police.

Among the social media posts under scrutiny is Gauvin’s sharing of an article that depicts the use of facial coverings as part of a plot to control the public.

Mainer, the alternative news publication, took screen grabs of Gauvin’s Facebook posts. One, on July 10, 2020, shared a TV news show post about a run on face masks prompted by those seeking to protect themselves against COVID-19.

“Who to believe, Bill Nye, ABC News, the CDC in March, or the CDC now? This Governor? That Governor?” Gauvin wrote in his post. “In my opinion, we are all being played. Where are the legit scientific studies on this?”

In another, he wrote that he had “zero confidence in the reported results” of the November election.

Gauvin apologized in mid January, saying in a prepared statement, “I certainly never intended for my social media account to ever bring my commitment to fair and professional law enforcement into question.”

State policy stipulates that “personal off-duty use of social media technologies may be the proper subject of state review and corrective action where there is a nexus between the personal use and the workplace.”

The policy says personal use of social media outside of work is subject to First Amendment protections.

“However, where such personal use is related to subject matter pertinent to state employment, it must be conducted in such a manner that no impression is created that the employee is speaking on behalf of the agency,” the policy states.

State lawmakers from both parties have weighed in on the issue.

A joint letter signed by 70 Democrats and one independent demanded that the Mills’ administration place Gauvin on administrative leave while his posts were investigated.

In another letter, 69 Republicans and another independent said Democrats were trampling on Gauvin’s free speech rights.

Senate Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, said having Gauvin’s status remain unresolved is unsettling for other members of the Capitol Police force.

“We should know what the policy is for the future for everybody else’s sake,” Timberlake said.

House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, said she contacted Public Safety Commissioner Sauschuck on Tuesday and he declined to comment, citing “an ongoing personnel matter.”

Talbot Ross also declined to discuss the ongoing investigation. She said she may propose changes to the curriculum on the use of social media by police at the state’s Criminal Justice Academy, where Maine police officers are trained.

“The duties of the Capitol Police have both grown, have expanded and contracted at different times throughout their tenure and this is no different – so we are going to take a look at what makes sense for the Capitol Police at this time,” Talbot Ross said.

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