Maine Governor Janet Mills recently announced her plan to establish an independent commission of experts to investigate the October 25 Lewiston mass shooting, in the hopes of shedding more light on the months leading up to the tragic event and the police response to it.
This decision comes amid growing concerns of missed opportunities to prevent
“I know that the Maine State Police are working hard to conduct a thorough and comprehensive criminal investigation of the shooting, but I also believe that the gravity of this attack on our people — an attack that strikes at the core of who we are and the values we hold dear — demands a higher level of scrutiny,” Mills stated in a press release.
The shooting, which left 18 people dead and 13 others wounded, was carried out by Robert Card, a U.S. Army reservist. According to reports, there were several unheeded prior warnings within the last 10 months from both the Army and Card’s own family regarding his troubling behavior and potential for violence.
Indeed, police agencies in both Maine and New York — where Card attended military training — confirmed that Card’s family and colleagues had expressed their fears about his well-being and revealed his access to firearms. The warnings included concerns that he might “snap and commit a mass shooting.”
“This raises crucial questions about actions taken and what more could have been done to prevent this tragedy from occurring,” the governor said.
The shooting has shed light on the complexities of state and federal laws dictating how law enforcement are authorized to respond to such threats before they occur. Maine is the only state with a “yellow flag law,” which has more procedural steps than the red flag laws that have been adopted by 21 other states. In Maine, a warning to law enforcement can trigger a process where an officer visits the individual and makes a judgment call on whether they should be placed in temporary protective custody. If so, that would in turn trigger a medical assessment of whether the person poses a threat. If they are deemed a threat, a judge could order a 14-day weapons restriction, which could be extended for up to a year after a full court hearing.
Apparently, the Maine National Guard had advised local authorities to check on Card in mid-September, citing concerns regarding a possible mass shooting. The Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office has reported that it conducted the check, but no one answered the door. The sheriff said his deputies didn’t have the legal authority to break down the door, and without being able to speak to Card, the first step in triggering the yellow card law could not be completed.
When questioned by reporters about how law enforcement handled these warnings, Mills deferred to the ongoing investigation by state police as they work to determine all the facts surrounding the tragic event. She refrained from commenting on the specific warnings and law enforcement’s knowledge of the situation.
Mills has now pledged to work with the Maine attorney general to formally establish a fully independent commission, consisting of experts with legal, investigative and mental health backgrounds. The commission’s mission will be to uncover the facts surrounding the tragedy, encompassing the events leading up to it and the police response.
“I hope to formally announce this commission and its membership next week so that it may conduct itself with a due sense of urgency, and above all else, follow the facts wherever they may lead,” Mills added.