Lewiston commission’s interim report was too important for a Friday afternoon

By Matthew Gagnon

In the world of politics and public policy, it is a longstanding understanding that Friday is the best day to dump information, news or revelations that you don’t really want to become big stories. 

The reason is simple: it is the end of the week, people are paying less attention, and there is virtually no possibility of a story being amplified by days of escalating coverage over the weekend, because reporters are working less, and news consumers are busy doing other things and care less. By dropping news on Friday, you can more or less guarantee that it gets the least amount of coverage possible. 

Apropos, I was driving to Machiasport last Friday, and while I was on the road in the late afternoon, an email was sent to me from the independent commission investigating the Lewiston mass shooting, announcing that it was releasing its interim report. I didn’t actually read the email and see the report until Sunday morning. 

It was a curious choice by the commission. One would think that such an important document would be something worthy of more attention, not less. The release made clear that the report “summarizes the Commission’s findings to date” and that “it is being issued for the sole purpose of addressing the actions of local law enforcement and the information provided by the U.S. Army Reserve,” and those are critical findings that deserve wide distribution.

So why the decision to release it on a Friday afternoon? I can’t think of anything about the report that necessitated that type of release, and it could have easily been held for three days to be released Monday. Had that happened, the content of the report would’ve demanded it be the biggest story in Maine all week. 

The report was stunning in its condemnation of the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office.

The commission was unanimous in its conclusion that “the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office had more than sufficient information to begin the process of securing a yellow flag order against Robert Card” in mid-September, well in advance of the shooting. They were particularly sharp in their condemnation of Sgt. Aaron Skolfield  — who is actually running for Sagadahoc County sheriff — claiming that he had what he needed to establish probable cause in order to seek a yellow flag order, basically gave up the attempt to make contact with Card, and that law enforcement had sufficient information to pursue criminal assault against Card, but didn’t pursue those charges. 

These findings are damning and work against a key narrative that has emerged after the shooting, which says that Maine’s yellow flag law was the problem. During the interviews of officers from the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office, there was a concerted effort on their part to blame Maine law, and the yellow flag law specifically, for their inaction. They wanted to act, they said, but their hands were tied due to the insufficient nature of the law. 

Skolfield had defended himself, saying he was prevented from acting. “I couldn’t get him to the door. I can’t make him open the door. I can’t kick in the door,” Skofield said. “If I had kicked in the door, that would’ve been a violation of law.” 

And yet the commission directly refuted that notion. “When Sgt. Skolfield ran into difficulty making contact with Mr. Card,” the report stated, “had he spoken to Sgt. Hodgson or members of Mr. Card’s family, he could have learned where Mr. Card worked, or gathered other information that would have allowed law enforcement officers to make contact with Mr. Card so that protective custody could be established and an application for a Yellow Flag order initiated.” It continued, saying that taking Card into protective custody “was warranted by the information known to Sgt. Skolfield as of September 17, 2023, and a plan to intervene and take Mr. Card into protective custody should have been undertaken.”

As the commission pointed out, all law enforcement agencies have a duty to preserve and protect the safety of the public. In this case, the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office had the tools necessary to do that, and yet it failed to do so. 

A critically important report detailing that basic fact was a very odd thing to basically throw in the trash on a Friday afternoon.

Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.

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