Lawyers for the state will square off with an attorney for a Maine State Police detective in federal court Thursday over whether his 2018 demotion was because of his allegations that a state police division was illegally collecting and maintaining data on Maine residents’ activities.
George Loder, 52, of Scarborough sued the Maine Information and Analysis Center in Augusta and its supervisors in May 2020 in U.S. District Court in Portland.
The center is a division of the Maine State Police that came under fire in the state Legislature following Loder’s lawsuit and a hack that showed the center was closely monitoring protests in Maine over police brutality and racism in 2020 following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
The Maine House last year voted to close the center, but that effort died in the Senate.
Loder claimed he was demoted after he told his bosses that the center was collecting and maintaining data illegally, including information about people who had applied to buy guns from firearms dealers, those who legally protested and those who worked at a Maine camp for Israeli and Arab teens.
The state has asked the judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Jon Levy, to find that Loder was not demoted because of the allegations he made, but instead that he was forced to return to working as a trooper after he was denied a job with an investigative unit.
Loder alleged in the lawsuit that the state police violated the Whistleblower Protection Act and his First Amendment right to free speech, and that the agency illegally retaliated against him. The complaint also named Col. John Cote, the head of the state police, which oversees the center, and his supervisors at the time, Lt. Scott Ireland and Sgt. Michael Johnston, as defendants.
Levy will hold a remote hearing Thursday afternoon on the state’s motion that argues the law is on its side and the case doesn’t need to go to trial.
Loder’s attorney, Cynthia Dill of Portland, will argue that the facts about her client’s demotion are in dispute and that a jury should decide whether the state discriminated against Loder.
The Office of the Maine Attorney General, which is defending the state police, declined to comment.
Dill said that she and Loder are grateful for the opportunity to fight for his rights.
“Holding the Maine State Police accountable for the unlawful surveillance activity of the MIAC has not been easy but is important,” she said Wednesday. “Changes within the agency to protect citizens’ privacy have been made thanks to Trooper Loder’s courage bringing this case and we expect a trial to fully vindicate him of the unfair smears generated by the state in its shaky defense of collecting and retaining massive amounts of information about law-abiding Maine citizens.”
The most recent court filings do not outline the center’s alleged illegal activities but focus on whether Loder’s concerns about possible spying was a factor in his demotion. Documents also do not outline changes to the center’s operations since Loder filed the lawsuit.
In 2018, Loder had been assigned to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in southern Maine from the information and analysis center for five years. He maintained that his supervisor’s directive that he share information he learned working on the task force with the center was illegal, and he refused to do so.
Loder was called back to the center by his supervisors to replace a retiring detective and because he had been working with the task force for five years, according to Assistant Attorneys General Paul Suitter and Valerie Wright. Loder allegedly protested that move citing the long commute from his home in Scarborough to Augusta.
Loder applied for what would have been a lateral move as a detective in the criminal investigation division, according to court documents. That position went to a trooper who had been on the job far fewer than the more than two decades Loder had been with the state police. After that, Loder asked to return to being a trooper, a position he now holds.
In its motion for summary judgment, the state claims that the facts don’t support Loder’s “theory that what he said about the MIAC’s activities made a difference in the decision to recall him from the [task force]. Without such evidence of a causal link, he cannot withstand summary judgment on the whistleblower protection claim.”
His First Amendment claim fails because he would have been called back to the Maine Information and Analysis Center “regardless of his speech” due to the detective’s retirement.
Loder’s attorney claims that “it was just 10 days after Loder specifically told Johnston that his information-sharing directive was illegal” that he was called back to the center.
Because facts are in dispute, the case must go to trial, Dill claims.
The judge is expected to issue a written decision in the case at a later date.