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Outside review finds sheriff's deputies took 'reasonable' steps to assess Lewiston gunman

Rain soaked memorials for those who died sit along the roadside by Schemengees Bar & Grille, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023, in Lewiston, Maine.
Matt York
Rain soaked memorials for those who died sit along the roadside by Schemengees Bar & Grille, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023, in Lewiston, Maine.

An independent reviewer has found that Sagadahoc County sheriff's deputies responded reasonably to mental health concerns raised about the man who would later commit Maine's largest mass shooting. 

In his review conducted for the Sagadahoc County Sheriff's Office, Portland attorney and investigator Michael Cunniff found deputies' handling of concerns about Robert R. Card II were "reasonable under the totality of the circumstances" given the information they had at the time.

Deputies looked into Card's mental health twice in the months before the Lewiston shootings that left 18 people dead — first in May in response to concerns raised by Card's ex-wife and teenage son, and then again in September after an Army reservist expressed concerns that Card might commit a mass shooting.

Cunniff wrote that, based on his review, deputies didn't have sufficient grounds in either instance to take Card into protective custody and attempt to seize his guns under Maine's "yellow flag" law. Ever since the Oct. 25 shooting, there have been questions raised about why the Sagadahoc County Sheriff's Office, the Army or police in New York — where Card was hospitalized for two weeks in a psychiatric facility — did not utilize those states' yellow or "red flag" laws to temporarily confiscate his firearms.

While many aspects of the report have been publicly disclosed before, the document sheds additional light on conversations that deputies had with Card's family members as well as leaders of the Saco-based Reserve unit where he had served for years.

Just six weeks before the shootings, for instance, Sagadahoc Sgt. Aaron Skolfield tried to contact Card after a fellow Army reservist warned that Card might attack their building in Saco or commit a mass shooting. The sergeant believed Card was inside his Bowdoin home but didn't answer the door, so he parked his cruiser within sight of the house in hopes of obtaining a "consensual conversation" with Card to assess his mental state if he saw him leave.

Skolfield also made numerous calls to members of Card's family and to Army Reserve leaders, attempting to learn more about the alleged threats, what the Reserve unit was doing and whether Card's family had removed any of his guns.

Transcripts of conversations show that Reserve leaders questioned the legitimacy of the threat, saying that while such threats must be taken seriously that the other reservist's message should also be taken "with a grain of salt."

They asked the sheriff's office to do a wellness check on Card to document for the Reserve that he was "alive and breathing" and said the Army would "go from there," indicating plans to get him mental health treatment. But Army Reserve Capt. Jeremy Reamer — who is a New Hampshire police officer — said that he didn't want the Sagadahoc deputies to have to "escalate" the situation "to get hurt or do anything that . . . push you guys in a compromising position and have to make a decision."

Card's brother also assured the sergeant that they would remove his guns. The report suggests that the family did change the code on a family gun safe but that Card apparently had a key that allowed him to bypass the code.

"After an objective analysis, the reviewer concluded that the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office’s responses to concerns about Mr. Card’s mental health in May and September 2023 was reasonable under the totality of the circumstances," Cunniff wrote in the conclusion of the more than 90-page report.

"Moreover, the factual findings indicate that Sergeant Skolfield and Deputy Carleton each diligently explored the nature and extent of the concerns about Mr. Card’s mental health and that it was reasonable for them to conclude under the totality of the circumstances both that Mr. Card did not then pose an imminent risk of self-harm or harm to others, that there were insufficient grounds to take Mr. Card into protective custody or to take other actions, and that deferring the monitoring of Mr. Card’s wellbeing, including guidance toward a mental health evaluation and treatment, to third parties while emphasizing the availability of Sheriff’s Office resources if they should be needed thereafter, was objectively reasonable."

A special state commission is also investigating the events leading up and following the shooting and the Army has launched its own internal review.