ALFRED — Nine days from today, York County Sheriff Maurice Ouellette will leave the office for the last time. He’s retiring, and on Jan. 1, a new York County Sheriff, W. L. “Bill” King, will be sworn in.

Ouellette, 68, of Cornish, has been part of the sheriff’s office for 16 years. He was named chief deputy by his predecessor and former Sanford police colleague, Philip G. Cote, who was elected sheriff in 1998 and took office in January 1999. Cote served two terms as sheriff with Ouellette as his chief deputy. Then Ouellette went on to be elected to two four-year terms as the county’s top police officer.

He reflected a bit on his 16 years at the sheriff’s office and his 46 years in law enforcement ”“ and what’s next for him ”“ in a recent interview.

In the short term, what’s next will be some rest and relaxation time. Ouellette and his wife, Bonnie, will pack up their motor home and head south for a bit, where the temperature almost never gets down to freezing. 

His achievements? Well, there are a few.

“I liked being involved in bringing professionalism to the agency,” he said.

Rural deputies are now closer to the people they serve, he said, and that’s good police work.

“If we have a good working relationship with the public, it will pay back many times,” he said.

Ouellette said he always tells his officers that if there are no calls pending and there’s a ball game being played in one of their towns, the deputy should stop by for a few minutes.

“Talk to mom, dad and the kids,” he said, pointing out that building relationships with the people they serve is key to their success.

“We do the people’s work,” he said, “and it’s about quality of life.”

It was quality of life that saw the sheriff’s office team up with a basketball team at Massabesic High School a few years ago to raise funds for a baseball team that was being cut because of budgetary issues. The fundraising game and parent-teacher group bake sale raised $3,500 that year, allowing the program to continue.

“The kids got to play baseball,” he recalled.

He pointed out that the agency’s clearance rate for major crimes is above the state average.

And one of the crimes that brought the most satisfaction was a heroin case that started off with a traffic stop for speeding. The driver’s license to operate the vehicle, said Ouellette “was hanging by a thread.” He imparted some information to the deputy that ultimately resulted in a big bust. Sheriff’s deputies worked the case with the help of federal drug agents.

“We put some people in jail and broke up a huge narcotics ring,” said Ouellette.

Putting drug dealers in jail isn’t new to Ouellette, who was a Maine State Police trooper for 23 years, and at one time, headed the York County drug team that was the forerunner to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.

Another arrest that gave Ouellette satisfaction took place during his career as a Maine State Police trooper. There had been a horrible murder in Sanford, where a man took the life of a young girl, Gycelle Cote, in 1984. She was 12 years old. Ouellette arrested the man who was convicted of killing her, Scott Waterhouse, who was later sentenced to life in prison.

Ouellette, like many in the field, came to law enforcement after serving in the military. After graduating from St. Ignatius High School in Sanford, he spent his Navy hitch aboard a submarine and later as a military police officer in Puerto Rico. He was home on leave from submarine duty when his barber, Pete Lamontagne, a Sanford police commissioner, asked if he’d ever given police work any thought.

He said he’d give it a try. After his military work was complete, the young Ouellette checked in with Sanford Police Chief John Pride, who gave him a uniform, gun and badge and told him to ride in a cruiser with another officer. At that time, there was no police academy, though he later went to a two-week training program in Portland and has gone to a host of other training programs since. After 3 1/2 years with Sanford Police Department, Ouellette attended the Maine Criminal Justice Academy as a Maine State Police trooper.

He’s worked as a reserve officer in Wells, for Cumberland County when it was planning its new jail, and when Cote, who was running for sheriff, asked if Ouellette would be interested in being his chief deputy, Moe, as he is known, said yes.

It hasn’t always been easy. Back in 2001, when Cote was sheriff and Ouellette chief deputy, prisoners at the old Route 4 jail rioted, creating havoc and destroying property. A couple of years later, however, Cote and Ouellette presided over the opening of a new York County Jail just half a mile away.

These days, Ouellette remains uneasy about the relationship between York County Jail and the state corrections board, which now oversees it and all other county jails in Maine. Consolidated by the state by the John Baldacci administration, the arrangement has never worked exactly as intended, due, at least in part, to the state failing to fund capital costs for the jail buildings. And while the state’s portion of operating costs in the form of quarterly payments has always flowed in, whether it would has frequently promoted worry.

Ouellette called the consolidated arrangement a “fiasco,” and it still is, he said.

Ouellette acknowledges that jails are in a tough place to work, and said he has an appreciation for the work corrections officers perform. He said some inmates are there because they made one mistake, others have made more, and still others are destined to continue to make mistakes throughout their lives. Jails, he said, have become a clearing house for the streets.

Looking back on his career, he spoke of a number of people, including his former Maine State Police Lt. Bud Trask, from whom, he said, he learned a lot.

Ouellette said he considered running for a third term, but then decided it was time to make other plans ”“ like traveling with Bonnie in their motor home and enjoying time with their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]

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