Gov. Janet Mills and Attorney General Aaron Frey on Wednesday introduced legislation to grant subpoena power to the independent commission investigating the October mass shooting in Lewiston.

Maine Shooting

Gov. Janet Mills speaks during a news conference in the aftermath of the mass shootings in Lewiston. Matt Rourke/Associated Press

The bill, which would authorize the Independent Commission to Investigate the Facts of the Tragedy in Lewiston to obtain documents and compel witness testimony, is sponsored by all four legislative leaders: Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, Speaker of the House Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, and House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor.

“This legislation, which comes at the request of the independent commission, will ensure that the commission has the tools it needs to fully and effectively discharge its critical mission of determining the facts of the tragedy in Lewiston,” Mills and Frey said in a statement.

Lawmakers are expected to refer it to the Judiciary Committee as soon as Thursday, when the commission is scheduled to hold its second meeting and hear from the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office.

The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. at the Deering Building, Room 101, at 90 Blossom Lane in Augusta. Members of the public are also able to watch a livestream via Zoom.

The Sagadahoc sheriff’s office received reports about gunman Robert Card’s declining mental health in May and September of last year and has been at the center of questions about whether law enforcement could have done more to prevent the shootings. Card shot and killed 18 people and wounded 13 others at two locations in Lewiston on Oct. 25.


Since the commission first met Nov. 20, members and staff have obtained and reviewed thousands of pages of documents, reports, audio tapes, photographs and other materials, as well as speaking privately with people who were impacted by the shootings, said Kevin Kelley, a spokesperson for the commission.

Attorney General Aaron Frey speaks to the Judiciary Committee at the State House in Augusta on Tuesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“It’s fair to say the commission has been able to receive what it needs so far, but as commission members have indicated – they hope and expect people will cooperate with the independent investigation,” Kelley said in an email.

“However, there may be circumstances (where) the investigation could be delayed or impeded without subpoena power. Commission members agree that subpoena power is important to ensuring that the people of Maine receive the answers that they deserve.”

The bill would enable the commission to issue subpoenas to compel the production of documents and the testimony of witnesses with a majority vote. In the event an individual or entity does not comply, the commission could apply to the Maine Superior Court to seek to compel compliance in any state, federal or military court or tribunal.

The bill is being introduced as an emergency measure, which means it needs two-thirds support from both the House and Senate in order to take effect immediately upon being signed by the governor. The fact that leaders of both parties have signed on as sponsor suggests it will get the needed support.

Some Republican lawmakers, including Stewart, had previously expressed reservations about granting the commission’s request for subpoena power. On Wednesday, Stewart said that his position changed after speaking with Mills and Commission Chair Daniel Wathen.


“We had a really good conversation with the governor on this,” Stewart said. “She gave her explanation of what’s been going on and what the plan is for this power. I would say the vast majority of folks from my caucus are overwhelmingly in support.”

Stewart had said in November that he was hesitant to grant the commission’s request due to a lack of input lawmakers had in forming the commission, whose seven members were appointed by Mills and Frey.

He said Wathen spoke with Senate Republicans about the request this week. “He came in to our caucus, explained what was happening with the commission, what the plan is, what the specific need is for this power and answered all our questions around it, and I think that made a lot of folks more comfortable,” Stewart said.

People hold candles and make the “I love you” sign at the end of a vigil for victims of Lewiston’s mass shooting on Nov. 1. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The commission is tasked with investigating the facts of the shootings Card carried out at Just-in-Time Recreation and Schemengees Bar & Grille, and is expected to issue a formal public report detailing its findings.

Its first public meeting was largely logistical and included the appointment of staff as well as discussion of a timeline and the request for subpoena power.

The Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office, which the commission will hear from Thursday, received a report from Card’s family about his mental health and was asked by his U.S. Army Reserve unit in Saco to perform a well-being check in the months prior to the shootings.

The sheriff’s office hired an attorney and private investigator to conduct its own independent review of its response to Card before the shootings. A report released in December found that deputies “responded reasonably under the circumstances at the time.”

Wathen said at the commission’s first meeting that it would strive for a six-month timeframe to complete its work, though he acknowledged that may be ambitious. “We will strive to meet it but not at the expense of failing to establish the truth,” he said.

After Thursday, the commission has three additional public meetings scheduled between now and March. They will be hearing from family members of deceased shooting victims who wish to publicly testify, Maine State Police and the U.S. Army.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.