Sagadahoc sheriff’s account raises questions about efficacy of Maine’s gun laws

Almost six months before Robert Card allegedly opened fire in two Lewiston businesses, his family was concerned over his mental health

By: - November 1, 2023 12:48 pm

A police officer stands beside a roadblock outside Schemengees Bar & Grille in Lewiston one day after a mass shooter killed eight people at the location. (Emma Davis/Maine Morning Star)

Almost six months before Robert Card opened fire in two Lewiston businesses, killing 18 people and wounding 13 more, his family was concerned over his mental health.

They contacted the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s office, informing them that Card, who lived in Bowdoin, had access to firearms.

Throughout the two-day search for Card, there was talk of the suspect’s previous interaction with law enforcement. Officials have been questioned over prior knowledge of Card and whether Maine’s yellow flag law should have been triggered to take away his firearms.

Many of those questions persist after a statement released by the Sagadahoc sheriff’s office Monday revealed that officers failed to locate Card, despite being warned about his declining mental health and potential for violence.

After initial concerns from Card’s family were raised in May, the sheriff’s office spoke with representatives from the Army Reserves in Saco, the 3rd Battalion 304 Training Group, of which Card was a member. They connected the Reserves with Card’s family and the sheriff’s statement said their office was “assured” Card would get medical attention.

But by September, Card’s Army Reserve unit reached out to the sheriff’s office asking for a wellness check. The statement doesn’t specify when exactly that request came in, but deputies went to Card’s home on Sept. 15 and Sept. 16 attempting to make contact with him.

“On the morning of Sept. 16, a Sagadahoc County deputy and a supporting deputy from Kennebec County returned to the residence,” the statement reads. “The deputy repeatedly knocked on the door, did not see Mr. Card or hear any voice. The deputy said he might have heard someone moving around in the trailer. No one answered the door.”

After failing to make contact, the sheriff’s office sent a File 6 alert — a type of missing person alert — to let other law enforcement agencies know they were trying to locate Card, who they said should be considered “armed and dangerous.” While File 6 alerts are common, officers were urged to use “extreme caution” if they came into contact with Card.

After the second attempt to visit Card at his home, the deputy contacted Card’s Army Reserve unit commander, who said Card no longer had access to weapons from the reserve unit.

The commander also said they were trying to get treatment for Card, but “thought it best to let Card have time to himself.”

“That to me is pretty clear information that should have been enough to initiate the yellow flag process,” Rocque said.

Maine’s “yellow flag” law differs from so-called “red flag” laws. While both authorize firearms to be confiscated, Maine’s version must be instigated by police, as opposed to family or friends, and also requires a mental health evaluation from a medical professional before petitioning a judge to confiscate a person’s firearms.

On Sept. 17, the sheriff’s office made contact with Card’s brother, the statement says. He said he would “work to secure any firearms that Mr. Card had access to.” Deputies asked the family to call back if they believed Card needed an evaluation or was a risk to others or himself.

A File 6 alert stays open until an individual is located, according to information shared with journalists by the state Department of Public Safety. Once the individual is located, law enforcement determines what next steps are warranted and then cancel the File 6 notice.

The statement from the Sagadahoc sheriff says the File 6 for Card was canceled on Oct. 18 — one week before he carried out the worst mass shooting in Maine’s history. But there was no mention of making contact with Card himself, only his family and unit commander.

Rocque and others want to know why that alert was canceled. There was communication with family and the army commander, but Rocque said it begs the question of why there wasn’t more follow up from law enforcement.

However, Rocque said he doesn’t think it’s as simple as police not doing their job.

The yellow flag law in Maine is “not straight-forward” and “cumbersome,” he explained, so police dealing with “limited resources and dozens of threats makes it a difficult situation.”

Instead, Rocque sees a failure with the law. Rather than a yellow flag law that requires multiple steps and “layers of bureaucracy,” a red flag law could be more effective, he said.

“It’s more expedited,” he said.

It seems the family did exactly what they were supposed to do in alerting officials to their concerns, Rocque said. But responding to those concerns can take time — which is complicated by the fact that there can be limited time to take action in these situations.

On top of that, Rocque said, “You’re balancing people’s individual freedoms and rights with the public’s safety and that’s never going to be an easy equation to solve.”

Additional information about Card’s criminal history was released Monday; however, it only included a misdemeanor for driving under the influence in April 2007.

Maine Morning Star is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Maine Morning Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lauren McCauley for questions: [email protected]. Follow Maine Morning Star on Facebook and Twitter.


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AnnMarie Hilton
AnnMarie Hilton

AnnMarie Hilton grew up in a suburb of Chicago and studied journalism at Northwestern University. Before coming to Maine, she covered education for newspapers in Wisconsin and Indiana.