Sheriffs had cause to take Maine mass shooter into custody before massacre, report finds

Independent commission documented series of events that it believes should have set off warning signs for intervention

Kelly Rissman
Saturday 16 March 2024 18:18 GMT
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The Maine independent commission investigating the events leading up to the state’s deadliest mass shooting — which left 18 people dead and 13 others injured — revealed in a damning report that the shooter should have been in protective custody weeks before the massacre transpired.

Robert Card, a 40-year-old Sgt 1st class in the Army Reserve, took his own life after going on a killing spree across Lewiston, Maine in October 2023. Questions swirled as to how Card was able to possess multiple firearms, given a cascade of concerns over his well-being.

In its 15 March report, the commission documented a series of events that it believes should have set off alarm bells for state agencies to intervene — including the state’s yellow flag law.

Yellow flag laws require a family member to report the individual to law enforcement, who would then be able to take the person into protective custody. Then, the individual must be evaluated by a mental health professional, who determines whether this person poses a risk.

The commission wrote that it was “unanimous in finding” the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) “had sufficient probable cause to take Robert Card Jr. into protective custody under Maine’s Yellow Flag law and to remove his firearms” in September 2023 — one month before the shooting.

It added that the SCSO had “probable cause to believe that Mr. Card posed a likelihood of serious harm.”

Robert Card being interviewed by police at Camp Smith in Cortlandt (WMTW-TV 8/New York State police via AP)

The report specifically called out SCSO Sgt Aaron Skolfield. The sergeant responded to a report that Card “was suffering from some sort of mental health crisis, had recently assaulted a friend, had threatened to shoot up the Saco Armory and harm others, and was in possession of numerous firearms, should have realized that he had probable cause to start the Yellow Flag process,” the report says.

Sgt Skolfield not only provided “limited attempts” to see Card in person but he also failed to look into a previous complaint about Card, failed to contact the person whom Card allegedly assaulted, and failed to follow up on leads to determine how to contact Card, according to the report.

When Sgt Skolfield went on leave on 18 September 2023, his supervisors failed to assign another deputy to take further action. The SCSO failed to take the necessary steps to take Mr. Card into custody and begin the Yellow Flag process.

Given the circumstances known to Sgt Skolfield, making the family responsible for removing Card’s firearms “was an abdication of law enforcement’s responsibility.”

“This decision shifted what is and was a law enforcement responsibility onto civilians who have neither the legal authority to begin the Yellow Flag process nor any legal authority to seize weapons,” the commission wrote.

The SCSO then should have followed up to ensure that the weapons had been taken from Card, the report says.

The commission also laid out a timeline of concerns from family members and colleagues about Card’s behaviour and mental health in the run-up to the massacre.

In May 2023, Card’s son and his mother got in touch with SCSO and a Topsham School Resource Office reporting that Card’s mental health had been declining in recent months and that he had been complaining that people were talking about him behind his back.

Card’s son also was concerned that his father had moved 10-15 firearms from his brother’s house to his own, the report says.

A SCSO deputy told the family he would check with the Saco Army Reserve Unit, where Card’s colleagues informed the deputy that Card had been complaining about hearing voices and accusing other soldiers of calling him a paedophile.

The deputy then met with Card’s family members, including his brother who said Card had agreed to see a doctor, he sent a department-wide note to “use caution” when approaching Card’s home. Card’s brother reached out to the deputy a month later in June, expressing concern about his behaviour again and a desire to get him into a hospital.

But that no one ever followed up on these requests, the commission wrote.

In mid-July, Card was “acting erratically” at work, prompting the captain to order his mental health be evaluated, leading to a weeks-long hospitalisation. While there, mental health providers advised that Card’s access to all military weapons and ammunition be restricted and they insisted to the captain that “measures be taken to safely remove all firearms and weapons” from Card’s home. The captain, however, did not report this recommendation to SCSO, the report says.

The report then noted that in September an Army reservist sergeant, and friend of Card, texted the captain and Sgt Mote expressing concern about Card. He wrote: “I believe he is messed up in the head,” adding that he threatened the unit. He also texted ominously, “I believe he is going to snap and do a mass shooting.”

After receiving the text, Sgt Mote and the captain decided that the SCSO would be asked to conduct a well-being check on Card to gauge his mental state and determine if he was a threat to himself or others.

Sgt Mote then prepared “a statement of probable cause” for the SCSO to begin the process of securing a Yellow Flag order as police prepared to conduct the well-being check.

That’s where Sgt Skolfield came into play. Despite being told that Card had been recently admitted to a psychiatric facility, given Sgt Mote’s probable cause statement, and provided the text from Card’s friend, Sgt Skolfield “determined that the situation was ‘not as pressing’ as it first appeared,” the commission wrote.

He went to Card’s home but he wasn’t there, so he instructed officers on the later shift to do the same, and again, Card wasn’t home. So, Sgt Skolfield issued a file 6 alert, sent to law enforcement across Maine, relaying that Card was considered armed, dangerous and suffering from an “altered mental state.”

In the next two days, Sgt Skolfield attempted to check up on the status of the removal of Card’s weapons and spoke to Card’s brother “to determine whether Mr. Card needed a psychiatric evaluation” and if so, he should call SCSO.

“After September 17, 2023, neither Sgt. Skolfield nor any other member of his department took any further steps in this matter,” the commission wrote. He allegedly considered the matter “resolved” as no one said that they “wanted to press charges,” the report says

Sgt Skolfield then cancelled the file 6 alert on 18 October 18 — one week before the mass shooting.

The commission said it will continue to hold public hearings and gather testimony and information for its final report and future recommendations. “More work needs to be done and it will be done -- the victims, their families and the people of Maine deserve no less,” the commission wrote.

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