Maine State Police Col. William Ross faced tough questions Thursday morning regarding the manhunt for Lewiston shooter Robert Card during an interview on WGAN Morning News with Matt Gagnon.
The Maine State Police (MSP) was the agency in charge of the nearly 48-hour search for the shooter, which ended abruptly and surprisingly Friday evening when Card’s body was found less than a mile from where he ditched his car.
Since the manhunt concluded, it has faced scrutiny and criticism from both the media and the public, as well as from one Androscoggin County Sheriff’s deputy, who criticized the search operation in a Facebook post.
In the since-deleted post, sheriff’s deputy Jon Guay called the Command Staff of the MSP “utter clowns,” and said that “Radio Silence” was the best way to describe the amount of information that the MSP shared with the law enforcement officers involved in the manhunt.
“I think there’s a lot of frustration out there of what people don’t know, and they don’t know the why, and the how, and all of that,” Col. Ross said when asked about the Facebook post.
“Our real issue is, you know, a lot of people have the luxury to have an opinion, and look at us and say ‘but I would have done this differently,’ ‘I would have done that differently’ — but we really have that ultimate responsibility of the decisions that are made with the people that are there on the scene,” Ross explained.
Col. Ross added that he does not know the individual behind the Facebook post, and that the MSP’s reaction to the post was more geared towards the media, who he said “really exploited this thing.”
The Manhunt for Robert Card: Why Were K-9 Units Not Used?
Turning to the topic of the manhunt itself, WGAN Morning News host Matt Gagnon asked Ross to go into detail about why there appeared to be a substantial delay between the discovery of Card’s abandoned vehicle and a search of the surrounding area.
Ross rebutted that there was not a delay, calling it “misinformation.”
He explained that immediately after the vehicle was discovered shortly before 10 p.m. on the night of the shooting, “tactical units” approached and cleared the vehicle.
Following the discover of the vehicle, Col. Ross explained, a discussion occurred regarding how best to proceed with the search of the area around the boat launch where the vehicle was ditched.
This discussion, Ross said, included whether to utilize K-9 units or one of the many “tactical assets” at the MSP’s disposal.
While this discussion was occurring, however, Ross said that there was a search underway of the “wooded area” surrounding the vehicle, including a false lead from a helicopter heat signature reading.
“The decision was made, and the safest thing to do, is use tactical assets that have specialized training in night movements, specialized equipment to work at night,” Ross said. “These teams, they have better weapon systems, they have better body armor, they have better training, than some of the first responders that are there.”
The decision to make use of the tactical assets rather than the other first responders was informed by considering the threat Robert Card posed to the law enforcement involved in the search.
Gagnon followed up by asking the MSP Colonel why K-9 units were not used in the search around Card’s vehicle.
Ross said that although there were available K-9 units that day, the decision was made not to use them because there was a concern that “the area could be contaminated” due to the number of law enforcement in the area,” as well as that they had tactical assets that were “better prepared” to search the wooded area.
Ross explained that using the tactical teams to do a sweep of the area was the “safest thing to do.”
“If you didn’t have these tactical teams, we’re going in,” Ross said, adding that the first responders who were at the scene were “ready to go.”
“I think a lot of animosity here comes with probably some of these decisions to use these tactical teams,” he said. “We had so many of them, and they’re really the safer option for clearing areas.”
“It seemed to work really well,” he added. “I think the downside to it is, some of the patrol officers that were there — and keep in mind there’s hundreds of people that are coming to this scene — weren’t being utilized as much in this capacity.”
Ross said that although the decision to use the tactical teams was a “bone of contention,” he believes it was the right decision.
“Nobody was hurt doing this, nobody was killed doing this, and I don’t want to be here, sitting here talking about some tragedy that happened because we didn’t deploy an asset that might have been the better choice that we believed to be the better choice,” he said.
The Discovery of Robert Card’s Body
Gagnon then asked Col. Ross to clarify how the discovery of Card’s body at the Maine Recycling Corporation (MRC) in Lisbon occurred.
Law enforcement searched a portion of the MRC premises twice before being called back to the property by the owner to conduct a third search in an overflow parking lot.
Ross said that using Card’s vehicle as a starting point for their investigation led them first to investigate the Androscoggin River and the wooded area around the boat launch.
According to Ross, the Lisbon Police Department “checked the actual [MRC] building” on Wednesday evening at some point, although he said it was “not a full search” and was not “a tactical team sweep of the area,” and did not include a search of the trailers on the property.
As the search operation moved into Thursday morning, Ross said that they considered how to go about searching the industrial park in which MRC is located.
Ross said that midday Thursday another group swept the “area of the main [MRC] building,” but did not search the overflow lot across the street.
“They weren’t told to do the lot across the street,” Ross said, which prompted Gagnon to ask why not.
“I think there was a misunderstanding, that is ‘well we’re doing Maine Recycling, we weren’t told to go across the street and do that,'” Ross responded. “And keep in mind, when we give people specific tasks, you do the specific task, you report back, you say ‘hey, we’ve done a sweep of this area.'”
Ross explained that after they learned of the overflow lot from the owner of Maine Recycling, the MSP tactical team began a sweep of the lot around 6 p.m. Friday — which resulted in finding Card’s body in the third trailer they searched.
Why Did Robert Card’s Warning Signs Not Trigger Maine’s Yellow Flag Law?
Gagnon then turned to the topic of the warning signs that were present regarding Robert Card in the months preceding the Lewiston shooting, including information shared with Maine law enforcement agencies regarding Card’s mental health issues and his stated intent to commit a mass shooting.
“How is it that all those warning signs were present and nothing was ultimately done to protect the community here for this individual?” Gagnon asked Ross.
Col. Ross stated that with respect to the information from out of state and from the military that was shared with Maine law enforcement regarding Card — including his two-week stay in a New York psychiatric hospital — “none of that applies.”
“It’s kind of a restart when it comes to the state with respect to the weapons restriction law — the yellow flag law — and I think that’s a problem too,” Ross said. “There should have been opportunities here to collect all of this information and be able to move forward with it.”
“There isn’t a clearinghouse for this, where this person comes on the radar, and somebody is attached to this saying ‘hey, this person needs to be found, this person needs to be placed and evaluated,” Ross explained. “And when you look at the yellow flag law, there’s a lot of things that have to take place to get to the point where you can remove weapons from the individual’s possession.”
The MSP Colonel said that there’s “a lot more work that needs to be done” with respect to the yellow flag law procedure, but that examining those public policy decisions will be under the purview of Gov. Janet Mills’ independent commission of experts.
“I mean, you could have a history in another state, or incidents in another state, and when you come into Maine it kind of resets,” Ross said, to which Gagnon followed up clarifying that Card had made threats against the military base in Saco and that his family had spoken to Maine law enforcement with their concerns about his mental health.
“I think when — whoever’s responsible for — whoever inherited this as a case, and that entity needs to track this individual down, and to continue to track this individual down until you locate them and then you can make that assessment as a law enforcement agency,” Ross responded.
“And if you can make that determination that they need to be brought in for an evaluation, and you start following the steps of that yellow flag law,” he said. “And I think that’s where things were dropped, that people that had that information –“
Gagnon asked Ross if he was referring to the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office, the agency that attempted unsuccessfully to conduct a welfare check on Robert Card in mid-September.
“I think that’s where, certainly their file six [missing persons report on Card], that they put out with that information — and I don’t know why that file six was canceled, but I think that this individual needed to be brought in and evaluated,” Ross said.
The MSP Colonel added that he was curious about Card’s commitment to the New York psychiatric hospital, and emphasized that “there’s not a lot of people talking to each other,” and that “there really needs to be some type of clearinghouse that’s responsible for these types of things.”
Listen to the full WGAN Morning News interview with MSP Col. William Ross below: