County sheriff plans meeting with immigration officials

The Cumberland County Sheriff's Office hosted a "Coffee with a Cop" event at MacDonald's in Gray Wednesday, Oct. 4. From right to left: Deputy Joe Schnupp, MacDonald's Director of Operations Rhonda Sprague and Breakfast Manager Darlene Chapman, Chief Deputy Naldo Gagnon, Sheriff Kevin Joyce, Pastor Darwin Vail, and Captain Scott Stewart. 

GRAY — The Cumberland County Sheriff may be in hot water with Maine’s governor, but the Sheriff’s visit to Gray Wednesday morning centered mostly around coffee.

But following a rebuke by Gov. Paul LePage in late September over Joyce’s decision not to detain prisoners past their date of release, Sheriff Kevin Joyce also said at the gathering that he planned to meet with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials later this week.

As part of “National Coffee with a Cop Day” on Oct. 4, Sheriff Kevin Joyce and members of his command team staked out McDonald’s on Main Street in Gray – not to make an arrest, but to meet with community members and hear some of their concerns and ideas in an informal setting.

Joyce said that the Coffee with a Cop initiative “started on the west coast, actually, as a community policing effort to try to encourage police officers to integrate with the public.” He added that people will sometimes ask questions at these events that they wouldn’t normally call and ask his office over the phone.

Joyce, a Standish resident originally from Windham, said the issues they hear about aren’t always law enforcement-related, and sometimes officers are just there to provide “an ear to listen to sombody’s concerns and try to help them out.”

Sheriff’s Executive Assistant Kelley Maines said the office tries to do about four “Coffee with a Cop” events each year in different locations around Cumberland County.

Chief Deputy Naldo Gagnon said the events are about “us going to them instead of people coming to us” in order to connect with members of the community they serve.

“Who’s protecting the road while you guys are here having coffee,” joked one McDonald’s employee from the back.

One of the few community members who stopped by between 6:30 and 7 a.m. on Wednesday, Pastor Darwin Vail from the Bible Believing Baptist Church in Gray seemed impressed with the Coffee with a Cop initiative.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Vail, who visits the Cumberland County Jail “from time to time” to counsel inmates.

Attendance was not as high Wednesday as it had been in the past, organizers said, which gave Joyce an opportunity to answer questions about his decision in September to stop complying with requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain Cumberland County prisoners past their release date.

Joyce’s decision to not honor the requests seems to have drawn fire from LePage, who sent a letter to county sheriffs on Sept. 26, directing them to cooperate with federal officials.

“Under the authority granted to me by law, I am directing you to cooperate with federal immigration officials … ” LePage said to the sheriffs. “As a State established under the authority of the Constitutions of the United States of America and of the State of Maine, the State must do its duty and work cooperatively at the Federal, State, and Local level to enforce the laws that maintain our nation’s sovereignty and keep us safe.”

The Sept. 26 press release from LePage’s office also noted that “Maine law gives the governor the authority to direct county sheriffs, and the Constitution of the State of Maine gives the governor broad authority to remove sheriffs from office who are not faithfully executing their duties.”

“Haven’t heard a thing,” Joyce said when asked if he’d heard from the governor in the last week. “Actually, I never received a letter. Other sheriffs did.”

LePage Press Secretary Julie Rabinowitz said the letter “was sent both to the individual sheriffs’ offices directly and to the Sheriff’s Association, and we have confirmed they were received.”

Joyce said he’s “pretty confident” that the current ICE detention request process “is a violation” of constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment, which protects in part from unreasonable searches and seizures.

An ICE spokesman, Shawn Neudauer, said the agency “maintains that detainers and administrative arrest warrants are legally valid documents, and that ICE has the legal authority to issue such documents – in accordance with the lawful framework established by Congress for the enforcement of immigration violations.”

Joyce said he conducted six months of research before deciding to act on the detention policy change.

“We’re going to meet with ICE later this week,” Joyce added. He plans to lay out a way forward that he thinks will protect Cumberland County legally.

“We want to work with ICE,” Joyce said. “They’ve got a tough job to do.”

“They can’t leave us liable of violating someone’s constitutional rights,” he said. “We just want to make sure we’re protecting the county and the citizens of Cumberland County from any lawsuits.”

Joyce said that if there was a legal issue, “it comes back on the county, and not on ICE.”

“This is not anti-ICE, this is not anti-immigration, this pro-taxpayer,” Joyce stressed.

“ICE seeks to build cooperative, respectful relationships with our law enforcement partners and will continue to work with Maine sheriffs and local elected officials in our joint mission of public safety,” Neudauer said.

Joyce understands that LePage could remove him from office “with a process.”

LePage’s office also sent out a press release on Sept. 27 clarifying the powers granted to any governor and process under the State Constitution and statute to remove a county sheriff from office.

Article IX, Section 10 of the Maine Constitution says that a governor can remove a sheriff from office “upon complaint, due notice and hearing” that determines “the sheriff is not faithfully or efficiently performing any duty imposed upon the sheriff by law.”

State law says that county commissioners can jump start the process to remove a sheriff by filing a complaint with the governor.

Joyce said he knows each of the five Cumberland County Commissioners, and “I’ve heard they support me.”

“Somebody could make a complaint,” Joyce acknowledged. “I guess anything is a possibility.”

According to LePage’s office, a communication by a county commissioner is “only one method” to receive a complaint.

“We are a nation of laws,” LePage said in the Sept. 27 press release. “We expect our law enforcement officials to comply with the law.”

As of Wednesday, Rabinowitz said that no complaint has been filed with the governor in regard to the ICE detention request issue.

“The governor has not received any complaints of a refusal to comply with an ICE detainer request,” Rabinowitz said. “No removal process would be initiated without a valid complaint that an ICE detainer request had been refused.”

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office hosted a “Coffee with a Cop” event at MacDonald’s in Gray Wednesday, Oct. 4. From right to left: Deputy Joe Schnupp, MacDonald’s Director of Operations Rhonda Sprague and Breakfast Manager Darlene Chapman, Chief Deputy Naldo Gagnon, Sheriff Kevin Joyce, Pastor Darwin Vail, and Captain Scott Stewart.

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce chooses from a tray of muffins held by MacDonald’s Director of Operations Rhonda Sprague in Gray. The Sherriff’s office held a “Coffee with a cop” event on Oct. 4.

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce speaks with Pastor Darwin Vail during the Oct. 4 “Coffee with a Cop” event at the MacDonald’s on Main Street in Gray.