Members of the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Department answer questions from the commission investigating the mass shooting in Lewiston during a meeting in Augusta Thursday. From left to right, Sheriff Joel A. Merry, Lt. Brian Quinn, Sgt. Aaron Skolfield, and Deputy Chad Carleton. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

AUGUSTA — Members of the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office defended their response to warning signs about the mental health of the man who went on to commit the state’s deadliest mass shooting, testifying Thursday that they had limited options given that he hadn’t committed a crime.

Sagadahoc Deputy Chad Carleton, appearing before the commission investigating the mass shooting in Lewiston, was questioned about what he did after learning last May from the son and ex-wife of gunman Robert Card that they were worried about his mental health.

“Through the lens of May 3, I truly believe I took the best action to get him on the right path,” Carleton told the Independent Commission to Investigate the Facts of the Tragedy in Lewiston, noting that at that point the Army reservist had not committed a crime.

“I thought I, the family and the Army came up with a good plan and that plan would get him on the course he needed to be on,” Carleton said. “Looking through the post-Oct. 25 lens, we’re going to open up a lot of discussion.”

Carleton was one of five members of the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office to face questions Thursday about the agency’s response to warning signs in the months and weeks before Card shot and killed 18 people and injured 13 more at two locations in Lewiston on Oct. 25.

They testified in front of the seven-member commission appointed by Gov. Janet Mills to investigate the events before, during and after the deadliest mass shooting in state history. It was the first of four scheduled meetings to gather testimony from police, Army personnel, and victims, and family members of those killed.


Sheriff Joel Merry would not comment on the case outside of the hearing, but said it was important for the media and the public to understand the full context of law enforcement’s interactions with Card before reaching conclusions. He said he is eager for the commission to move forward with its work.


In testimony before the commission, Carleton and Sgt. Aaron Skolfield defended their response to reports of Card’s declining mental health and the threat he might become violent, and perhaps even snap and commit a mass shooting. The officers said their options were limited given that Card hadn’t committed any crime.

Skolfield, who responded to a Sept. 15 request from Card’s U.S. Army Reserve unit to check on him, said he also received conflicting information that made him unsure about how seriously he should take concerns about Card.

Skolfield received a memo from the Army Reserve that said Card reportedly assaulted a friend and fellow soldier. Skolfield testified that he believed at the time the report was made about 12 hours after the incident and as a result he didn’t see it as being urgent. In reality, 36 hours had passed by the time he received the report. Had he known that, he said, it would have made it a higher priority.

He was also asked about a statement in the memo by a fellow reservist who said he was worried that Card was going to “snap and commit a mass shooting.”


“I took it for what it is, as a piece of the puzzle,” Skolfield said when asked how he interpreted that comment. He said the statement sounds alarming, but it was just one piece of information.

The reservist who made the report was characterized by his command staff as having credibility issues, Skolfield said. “It diminished the urgency of Mr. Card’s mental state, that the whole complaint … wasn’t on such a solid foundation,” he said.


Skolfield went to Card’s home twice in two days to check on him after getting the report. Nobody was home the first day and Card refused to come to the door the second day.

“I can’t kick in the door,” he told the commission. “If I had kicked in the door, that would have been against the law.”

Skolfield said he then tried calling Card by phone but didn’t get an answer. Afterward he was called to another incident that tied him up for the rest of his shift.


Commission members questioned if more could have been done. They asked Skolfield if he had tried to track Card down at his place of work – he didn’t.

Commissioners also asked Skolfield if he had pulled up the May report about Carleton’s interaction with Card before he went to check on Card. “I did not, I was not aware of Deputy Carleton’s response,” Skolfield said.

Skolfield was slated to go on vacation a few days later but did not transfer the case to another officer because he said Card’s brother assured him he would be securing the family’s firearms, and the Army Reserve advised Skolfield it would be best to let Card “simmer and cool down.”

“I didn’t want to agitate him,” Skolfield said. “I didn’t want to throw that stick of dynamite into a pool of gas and create a situation. Ideally, we all know how we wished this turned out. I’m heartbroken about how this turned out.”

Merry was asked if his office has any policy to follow up and ensure firearms are confiscated in a situation like Card’s where his family had said they would secure the guns.

“We don’t,” Merry said. “That would be a good and desirable practice, I would agree with that.”


Police also had received a report that Card might shoot up an Army Reserve facility in Saco “and other places”  that were not identified at the time of the September report.

Skolfield alerted Saco police about the specific threat but did not try to find out what the “other places” were, he said Thursday in response to questioning. Skolfield was asked if it might have been useful information for other police agencies to prepare.

“That’s a fair question,” Skolfield said. “Yes, it would be nice to know.”

It’s not clear if the “other places” were the Lewiston businesses Card targeted on Oct. 25. Police were later told that Card had talked about the those business, saying he believed they were spreading lies about him.


The officers also were asked about Maine’s yellow flag law, which allows them to seek court orders to remove firearms from people who are experiencing a mental health crisis,. The deputies stressed that it can be difficult and time consuming to use, though police around the state have used it with greater frequency since the Oct. 25 shootings.


As of Tuesday, the law had been used 90 times in the three months since the shootings, compared to 14 times in the previous three months. The Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office, which had never used the law before Oct. 25, has used it five times since the shootings.

Still, Carleton said it can be cumbersome. “It requires not only protective custody, but the second prong of medical review and the third prong of a judicial sign off,” he said.

Thursday’s meeting was the first involving public testimony before the commission Gov. Janet Mills and Attorney General Aaron Frey formed to investigate the facts of the mass shooting.

On Wednesday, Mills introduced legislation that would give the commission subpoena power to compel witness testimony and documents to aid in its investigation.

Both the House and Senate voted unanimously Thursday, without discussion, to refer the governor’s bill to the Judiciary Committee, where it will receive a public hearing in the coming days or weeks.

The commission is expected to hear over the next two months from family members of deceased shooting victims who wish to publicly testify, Maine State Police and the Army. No family members of shooting victims appeared to be in the room at Thursday’s meeting in Augusta, which also was available to watch remotely.


Arthur Barnard, whose son Arthur ‘Artie’ Strout was killed at Schemengees Bar & Grille, said he was unable to watch the commission meeting live and may not be among the victims’ family members to address the commission at its meeting next Thursday morning because of a scheduling conflict.

But he said he wants the body to understand that his focus is not on assigning responsibility for the shooting, but on addressing what he sees as gaping loopholes in laws like Maine’s yellow flag statute.

“To sit here and blame any one person – it feels pointless,” Barnard said. “I want to see somebody step up and say something reasonable. I am tired of everybody making excuses about why we can’t take a step forward.”

Staff Writers Randy Billings, Grace Benninghoff and John Terhune contributed to this report. 

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