AUGUSTA — Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin has been temporarily relieved of his command after coming under fire last week for comments and posts he shared on Facebook disputing the election results and criticizing COVID-19 mask mandates.

Lt. Robert Elliot, a 32-year veteran of the force, is temporarily leading the Capitol Police, Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Katy England said in a statement.

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck took the step after a group of 71 state lawmakers asked him to put Gauvin on administrative leave while his posts are investigated. The posts were first reported by Mainer, a Portland-based alternative monthly print and online news organization previously known as The Bollard.

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

The lawmakers sent a letter to Sauschuck and Gov. Janet Mills this week.

“As Commissioner Sauschuck stated last week,” England wrote in a prepared statement, “he was troubled and concerned by what he read and has asked that the matter be reviewed through the existing personnel process to determine whether any state policies were violated. Because this is an ongoing personnel related matter, the Office of the Attorney General has advised that Maine statute prohibits the department from discussing it further.”

Gauvin apologized for the posts after Mainer published a story Friday, detailing posts he made and posting images of them online. According to the story, Gauvin, on his Facebook page, mocked the use of face masks to guard against spreading COVID-19 and shared a post that suggested masking is part of a bigger plot to control the public.

In November, he posted that he had “zero confidence” in the results of the election that saw Joe Biden defeat President Trump. He also shared a post that referred to the election as “a psychological operation of epic proportions.”

Gauvin became the Capitol Police Chief in 2006, after he retired as a captain in the Portland Police Department, which he joined in 1980.

Gauvin’s time on the Portland force overlapped with Sauschuck’s, who joined the department in 1997 and rose through the ranks to become chief in 2011. Sauschuck left to become Portland’s assistant city manager before joining Mills’ administration as commissioner of public safety in 2019.

According to the state’s online open records portal, Maine Open Checkbook, Gauvin was paid a salary of $90,000 in 2019 and his total benefit package, including retirement, health and life insurance, is valued at $112,418.

Gov. Janet Mills and Sauschuck issued a statement after the Mainer story was published, saying Gauvin’s apology was “warranted.”

“He has assured us of his commitment to upholding his duties and responsibilities, regardless of any personal beliefs,” the statement read. “We are troubled and concerned by what we have read and have asked that the matter be reviewed through the existing personnel process to determine whether any state policies were violated.”

The news that Elliot would lead the 13-member Capitol Police force came as a team of State Police troopers dressed in tactical gear was dispatched to the Maine State House complex in a tightening of security measures Wednesday, when Biden was inaugurated as the nation’s 46th president.

England confirmed an increased presence of law enforcement at the State House. She said several agencies, including Maine State Police, the Capitol Police and the Augusta Police Department, were working jointly and were prepared to respond to any events.

“At this point, however, there is no credible evidence to suggest any potential safety or security threats,” England said in a prepared statement.  The Capitol Police have also consolidated entrance points to the State House complex and added additional security screening for visitors to the facilities, she added.

Federal authorities have warned governors that all 50 state capitols could be targeted by extremists who believe former President Donald Trump was cheated out of a second term by a fraudulent elections – although no evidence to support that conclusion has been substantiated.

Other measures being taken in Augusta on Wednesday by police and security screeners included a sign-in sheet for those who have to work in the capitol complex, including several members of the State House press corps.

Last Wednesday, the U.S. House voted to impeach Trump on a charge of inciting the insurrection during a rally prior its onset. Five were left dead in the wake of the violence. It was the second time Trump has been impeached. Trump has denied responsibility.

Mills has also activated the state’s National Guard so it would be poised to respond if needed. The  state’s top human resources official, Department of Administration and Financial Services Commissioner Kirsten Figueroa, has asked state workers to refrain from visiting the Capitol complex until after Friday.

Many state workers are already working remotely because of precautions in place to protect against the spread of COVID-19, but Figueroa asked even those who only make infrequent trips to stay away.

Also closed is a public cafeteria that is in the basement floor of the Cross Building adjacent to the State House and is typically frequented by state workers, lawmakers, lobbyists and the public.

On Wednesday, only a handful of media members and state workers were in either of the two large buildings, while the parking lots surrounding them, which are usually full, were largely empty.

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