A nationwide hack of police documents included reports from a secretive unit run by the Maine State Police that is under scrutiny because of a federal whistleblower lawsuit and allegations of illegal surveillance.

An activist group published the massive trove of documents one week ago, but Maine’s public safety commissioner did not mention the leak when he testified Wednesday at a joint legislative hearing.

Elected officials apparently learned about the hack from a University of Southern Maine assistant professor who wrote a book about so-called fusion centers, like the Maine Information and Analysis Center.

Secretive police unit gathers information on Maine citizens, commissioner tells lawmakers

Rep. Charlotte Warren, who is one of the chairs of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said that hearing and the leaked documents make her more concerned than ever about the fusion center.

“It’s like, boy, we know less than we thought we knew,” Warren said Friday. “We have so many questions.”

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Brendan McQuade, who teaches in USM’s Department of Criminology, wrote to legislators Thursday and cited the documents as part of his case to abolish the secretive police unit.

“I feel an urgency to act on this issue, not just because there’s a scandal developing where I live that’s directly related to my narrow area of scholarly expertise,” McQuade wrote in a Thursday letter. “I feel an urgency because of this political moment. The pandemic, the unfolding depression, the whistleblower compliant, and George Floyd Rebellion are all lining up in ways that could put the MIAC on the chopping block.”

McQuade addressed his letter to four legislators – Reps. Warren, Thom Harnett, Craig Hickman and Rachel Talbot Ross. All four participated in the joint hearing Wednesday when they questioned Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck about the fusion center. The Maine State Police oversee that unit, which combines the resources of local, state and federal agencies.

The documents from Maine do not include details about how the fusion center collects information or explicitly confirm the allegations in the pending federal lawsuit.

But they do include reports about protests in Maine, which was a source of concern for legislators this week.

A “Civil Unrest Daily Report” from June 3 listed the locations and expected attendance of upcoming Black Lives Matter events across the state. It also included incomplete information about two demonstrations in Portland that ended in arrests. For example, the report said, “Protesters stopped a tractor trailer truck and attempted to pull the driver out of the vehicle.” But it did not say that police charged the driver with reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon for allegedly trying to drive through the crowd. McQuade flagged at least two similar reports from the first week of June. Through a link, the report included a second document with personal information and mugshots of more than 30 people who were arrested at the protests.

Another bulletin from August 2018 described a “series of criminal acts” in Somerset County related to a controversial project from Central Maine Power. The Maine Warden Service reported finding signs and wooden sticks with opponent messages like “Save this space” and “No CMP corridor.” The bulletin asked law enforcement officers to report any suspects in that incident or any others in opposition to the New England Clean Energy Corridor. Bruce Lewis, the utility’s head of security, is a member of the fusion center’s advisory board.

“Law enforcement is encouraged to remain cognizant of the potential threat for future criminal action against CMP as planning for the NECEC continues,” the bulletin said.

Other bulletins contain information about people who are suspected of crimes, which are apparently distributed to multiple law enforcement agencies. Another document is an alert about a 17-year-old boy who had been released from Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland but had left his transitional housing. One report is a list of everyone arrested on drug trafficking charges in one month in 2017, including their mugshots.

McQuade cited that list in his letter, saying it appears to be an attempt to shame those people rather than help any active investigation.

“Policing – even ‘cutting edge’ policing with lavishly funded intelligence centers – cannot solve a public health problem like addiction,” he wrote. “It can, however, mark people with the stigma of criminalization.”

He encouraged the legislators to shut down the center.

“This is an opportunity for you to lead on national stage,” he wrote. “No state has shut down a police intelligence center. Even though the MIAC is a small fusion center, closing it down would be a major feat, one that would likely reverberate across the country in ways that would advance some of the liberatory demands now being voiced across the country.”

During the hearing, Sauschuck defended the fusion center, describing its focus as analyzing open source information, such as public documents or social media profiles.

“We’re not spying on people,” Sauschuck said Wednesday. “This is public information that is readily available.”

Warren said the committee will likely call another hearing, and she wants to consider cutting funding from and shutting down the fusion center. Sauschuck told the legislators Wednesday that the center’s budget is more than $800,000, which includes a $100,000 federal grant.

“I just think that we need so many things in this state, and as we are getting ready to really tighten our belt because of COVID, what I saw in those files is not what I think Maine people want to be spending that amount of money a year on,” Warren said.

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