Monday, October 30, 2023

A Closer Look: Maine’s Tragedy and The Missed Opportunities for Intervention

In the month preceding the most devastating mass shooting in the history of Maine, authorities were notified of indirect threats made by a U.S. Army reservist. This turned out to be one of several overlooked warning signs preceding the catastrophic event. Two high-ranking law enforcement officials conveyed that a warning to be vigilant for Robert Card, a firearms instructor, was circulated state-wide in mid-September after he made threatening remarks against his military base and fellow service members. However, despite intensifying security measures at the base and checking Card’s residence – both of which yielded no results – the situation was not pursued further.

“The additional patrols lasted about two weeks. However, the individual never made an appearance,” stated Jack Clements, the Chief of Police in Saco, where the U.S. Army Reserve base that Card attended is located. Joel Merry, the Sheriff of Sagadahoc County, which encompasses the area where Card resided, reported that his office was alerted to the threats made by the reservist in September by the Army Reserve. Subsequently, the sheriff disseminated a warning to all law enforcement agencies across the state following an unsuccessful welfare check at Card's residence. “We were unable to find him,” Merry remarked, noting that he was unsure if any additional follow-up occurred as he did not have the relevant reports immediately available.

Military representatives have refrained from providing further information about Card, particularly whether the threats reported to the sheriff in September were new or a repetition of threats made during an Army Reserve training session near West Point, New York, in July. During that time, Card was reportedly admitted to a mental health facility for a two-week period after displaying erratic behavior and expressing delusions of hearing voices and intentions to carry out a shooting at a military base.

The 40-year-old Card ultimately unleashed a barrage of gunfire using a rifle at a bowling alley followed by a bar in Lewiston, resulting in 18 fatalities and 13 injuries. Following a rigorous two-day manhunt that left the state in a state of high alert, Card was discovered deceased from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Despite his previous threats, the FBI reported that Card was not on their radar, clarifying that they had neither received nor possessed any information regarding him. They also confirmed that their instant background check system did not contain any information that would have barred Card from legally purchasing a firearm.

The circumstances surrounding Card’s case highlight numerous overlooked warning signs, raising critical questions about potential preventive measures that could have been taken by the military, law enforcement, mental health professionals, and family members. While Maine lacks a red flag law, it does implement a “yellow-flag” law, which permits police to request a judge to order the removal of firearms from an individual if deemed a threat by a medical professional.

Chief Clements defended the actions of his department in response to the alert regarding Card, describing it as a standard notification about veiled threats made by an individual. He emphasized that his department frequently receives similar alerts and ensured that they addressed this particular notification with the attention it warranted, maintaining vigilance at the base for any signs of Card. “We had no interaction with this individual and received no calls from the reserve center reporting any issues,” he stated.

The New York State Police also had an encounter with Card on July 16 when they were called to West Point by the commanders of the Army Reserve’s 3rd Battalion, 304th Infantry Regiment due to concerns about Card’s erratic behavior and threats made against other members of his military unit during a training exercise. The State Police subsequently took Card to the Keller Army Community Hospital at West Point for a two-week mental health evaluation.

The actions taken by the New York State Police in response to Card’s threats remain unclear, as the agency has declined to comment on the ongoing investigation and has not provided access to reports or potential body-camera footage from their interactions with Card. “This is an active investigation, and we do not comment on ongoing investigations or those where we are not the lead agency,” the agency stated.

Jonathan Crisp, a former army lawyer with two decades of experience, highlighted that when soldiers are involuntarily admitted to mental health facilities by their superiors, it is considered a “reportable” event under Army regulations. This necessitates notifying other authorities, and a provost marshal is required to enter the incident into a military database to alert the FBI, potentially leading to the individual’s name being added to a background list preventing them from purchasing weapons. “If they had to take him in and he was resistant, it’s clear-cut,” Crisp stated. “This should have definitely been reported.”

However, Michael Sauschuck, the Commissioner of the Maine Department of Public Safety, pointed out in a press conference that while Card had a history of mental health issues, there was no evidence to suggest that he had ever been involuntarily committed. “It’s important to note that just because mental health is a factor in this situation, the overwhelming majority of individuals with a mental health diagnosis are not violent,” Sauschuck commented.

Jody Madeira, a law professor at Indiana University who has conducted extensive research on gun laws, explained that police in one state have the capability to alert their counterparts in another state if they deem someone to be a threat, and the military has the same ability to communicate with local police. She expressed her belief that there was a significant oversight in this case, as Card’s threats and his subsequent mental health evaluation should have activated a yellow flag, resulting in the seizure of his firearms upon his return home. “He was overlooked,” Madeira stated. “There were obvious warning signs.”

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