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New leader takes over Capitol Police after social media flap

January 20, 2021 GMT
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A protester walks in front of the Statehouse, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Augusta, Maine. Law enforcement agencies stepped up patrols at the Statehouse to coincide with the inauguration of President Biden. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
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A protester walks in front of the Statehouse, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Augusta, Maine. Law enforcement agencies stepped up patrols at the Statehouse to coincide with the inauguration of President Biden. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — With the Maine State House on high alert for potential protests surrounding the inauguration, a new leader assumed command of the Capitol Police Department after the chief came under criticism for posts on social media that, among other things, questioned the election’s outcome, officials said Wednesday.

Lt. Robert Elliot is the temporary leader of the department, and Chief Russell Gauvin’s employment status was unclear. An automatic reply from Gauvin’s email address said he’s “currently out of the office.”

Gauvin’s social media posts derided mask mandates, questioned the presidential election results and supported a police officer who called for violence against Black Lives Matter protesters, prompting the governor to order an investigation and some lawmakers to call for him to be placed on administrative leave, or just resign.

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A spokesperson for the Maine Department of Public Safety confirmed the change in leadership Wednesday. Because it’s an ongoing personnel matter, the department cannot comment further, the spokesperson said.

The announcement that Elliot, a 32-year veteran, was in charge of the Capitol Police came on the same day Democratic President Joseph Biden was inaugurated as president in Washington,.

Across the country, police in state capitals have been on alert for demonstrations following the violent breach of the U.S. Capitol, which temporarily delayed the counting of electoral votes.

In Maine, Democratic Gov. Janet Mills activated Maine National Guard soldiers who were on alert to assist in keeping the peace at the State House. But there were no large demonstrations in Augusta.

On Wednesday, a handful of peaceful supporters of former Republican President Donald Trump gathered outside the State House. One man carried a flag and a sign that said “Stop the thief.” Another man had a sign that said “Impeach Biden and Democ-rats.”

Gauvin previously apologized for the social media posts that he wrote, shared or responded to, and acknowledged the posts “can be seen as inconsistent with my professional responsibilities.”

Gauvin has been chief since 2006. The 13-officer Capitol Police force is responsible for security at Maine’s State House and other state office buildings.