Maine Commissioner of Public Safety Mike Sauschuck speaks during a news conference late Friday announcing that the body of Robert Card, suspected gunman in Lewiston mass shootings that killed 18, had been found. Matt Rourke/Associated Press

Maine’s top public safety officials defended the police response to last week’s attacks in Lewiston during a radio interview Friday, saying the safety of officers was a factor in decisions that may have prolonged the 48-hour search for the shooter.

Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck also said the requirements of the state’s yellow flag law prevented Sagadahoc County sheriff’s deputies from seizing Lewiston shooter Robert Card’s guns in September after being warned about his mental health and access to weapons.

“I think the system is working currently,” Sauschuck said during an interview on Maine Public’s “Maine Calling” radio program. “Could it be better? Sure.”

Answering questions from host Jennifer Rooks and several callers from around the state, Sauschuck and Maine State Police Col. William Ross staunchly defended law enforcement’s response to last week’s shootings in the face of recent criticism that police should have done more to stop Card before he shot 18 people on Oct. 25 – and acted more quickly to find his body sooner after the massacre.

The army reservist was found nearly 48 hours after the shootings about a mile from his abandoned car and in an area that had been searched the day before. Card died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, the Office of the Medical Examiner said Friday, and had likely been dead 8-12 hours when his body was discovered.

As more details emerged in recent days about the multiple warnings police and the Army Reserves received about Card’s declining mental health, irrational behavior and threats of violence in the months before the shooting, experts, lawmakers and others have questioned why police didn’t do more to stop him. Critics of the police response have said Card was a prime candidate for Maine’s yellow flag law, which allows law enforcement to temporarily confiscate deadly weapons from individuals whom medical professionals deem threats to themselves or others.


On Friday, Sauschuck acknowledged that the law poses more challenges to police than would a red flag law, which allows family members or police to directly obtain a court order to seize weapons from a dangerous person without waiting for a medical evaluation.

Under the current statute, a Sagadahoc deputy who attempted to perform two wellness checks on Card in September was unable to take him into protective custody and move forward with yellow flag proceedings because Card never answered the door, Sauschuck said. He said the deputy did the right thing by not attempting to force his way into Card’s home, where he suspected Card may have been hiding, based solely on reports from his Army Reserve unit that Card had threatened to carry out mass shootings.

Police ride in the back of an ATV along Lisbon Street in Lisbon near the search site Friday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald

“Based on my experience and training, that’s not enough to force the door or do anything else that’s going to put everybody in harm’s way at that particular time,” he said, echoing comments made by Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry earlier this week.

Sauschuck declined to say whether the Sagadahoc deputies should have returned to follow up on Card after failing to find him twice, saying he’d leave that question for Sheriff Merry.

But even as Sauschuck pointed to the apparent failure of the yellow flag law to stop Card, he stood by it as a policy. He pointed to the number of times it’s been implemented since its inception in 2021 – 83 times as of Friday morning – as evidence that it’s keeping Mainers safe. While he suggested legislators would likely have a busy session reexamining the state’s gun safety and behavioral health policies, he did not give his opinion about changes he would like to see implemented.

Sauschuck and Ross offered a full-throated defense of their agency’s actions during the 48-hour manhunt for the shooter, which ended with the discovery of the Card’s body in a parking lot about a mile from where police discovered his car.


Responding directly to the Portland Press Herald’s reporting that there was a delay of some 12 hours before tracking began from the Lisbon boat launch where Card’s abandoned vehicle was found, Sauschuck and Ross stood by the decision to wait until daylight the next morning because of the “risk-reward calculation” commanders made with a potentially armed and dangerous suspect on the loose.

“We made the right decisions, and we are responsible for those decisions. I wish this thing was wrapped up in 48 minutes instead of 48 hours,” Ross said. “But I think those decisions protected the people that were involved in that search, and I think that’s important too.”

Meanwhile, as the manhunt continued into a third day Friday, residents of nearby towns remained in lockdown, uncertain of their safety and fearful that Card could be anywhere.

Kevin Lothridge, deputy executive director of the Global Forensic and Justice Center at Florida International University, reviewed a timeline of the incident provided by state police and said, overall, it appeared investigators followed proper police protocol in the incident.

Lothridge has some 40 years of forensic science experience and served for 14 years as executive director of the National Forensic Science Technology Center.

He said it is of course important to investigate a crime scene as soon as possible, while the evidence is fresh. But that needs to be balanced with the first priority of protecting the public and investigators from harm.


“You’ve got a mass shooter on the loose, so you’ve got to make sure public safety is as important as what you’re doing at the crime scene,” Lothridge said Friday. “Look at the threat, first, then the evidence.”

Lothridge acknowledged there were gaps in the timeline provided by police, but said there may be reasons for those. He said he never tries to get into someone else’s tactical operations, because he wouldn’t know the details involved in making those tactical decisions.

“This guy had just shot up two locations,” he said. “He’s an armed and dangerous mass-murderer, so that heightens up the level of time and work to make sure nobody else is put in harm’s way.”

Maine Shooting

Law enforcement continue a manhunt in the aftermath of a mass shooting, in Durham on Oct. 27. Matt Rourke/Associated Press

He speculated a canine may not have been assigned to track Card from his abandoned car until the morning after police found the vehicle out of concern about searching in the dark when, he said, the shooter would have an advantage and could shoot the dog, its handler, or both. But he agreed with a police dog expert that when it comes to a canine tracking a suspect – the sooner it gets on the scent of the target, the better.

“Like in the TV show ‘The First 48 Hours,’ the sooner you can get there safely, the better,” he said. “Tracking is important. Scent is persistent, but the sooner you get it, the better. But the key here is safety, in my opinion.”

Michael Gould, a police canine behavioral expert who was a founding officer of the New York Police Department’s K9 unit, said the moments immediately after a trail is discovered are some of the most critical in a manhunt and when police dogs can do their best work. He said using a dog could have helped police while searching for Card, whose body was found just over a mile away from his abandoned vehicle.


He said a canine should be deployed immediately, before an area becomes contaminated with other odors. And he expressed no qualms about using a dog at night to pursue a potentially dangerous subject.

“Canines are highly trained as offensive weapons, who can move at 20 miles per hour, scale fences, see at night, are low to the ground and a relatively small target,” Gould said. “They can be deployed when a human handler takes cover.”

The Maine State Police canine unit is one of the best in the country, he added.

The Maine Office of Chief Medical Examiner said Friday that Card had been dead for 8-12 hours when his body was discovered a week earlier on the evening of Oct. 27. It may be several months before the office releases their final report.

Sauschuck also said during the interview that he’s waiting for more information from the Army and from New York officials. He said he doesn’t know whether Card’s hospitalization there in July was voluntary or involuntary or whether there were conversations about using New York’s red flag law to restrict his access to weapons. Ross said state police in Maine never learned of the hospitalization from any N.Y. department, and were only alerted to Card, like everyone else, when Sagadahoc sent statewide notice in September.

Press Herald Staff Writer Kay Neufeld and Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Keith Edwards contributed to this report. 

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