Maine State Police Col. John Cote, who retired in September, in a June 14, 2022, file photo. Cote could be called as a witness in retired Maine State Police Trooper George Loder's lawsuit against the state. Credit: Nicole Ogrysko / Maine Public

More than two years after he made blockbuster allegations as part of a whistleblower suit against the state, retired Maine State Police Trooper George Loder and a cast of notable potential witnesses are ready for arguments that begin in a federal court this week.

Loder’s 2020 lawsuit alleged that the intelligence center run by the state police illegally gathered and handled personal data on Maine residents, including those who had applied to buy guns from firearms dealers, who protested against the Central Maine Power Co. corridor and who worked at an international camp for Israeli and Arab teens.

But it is actually about his allegation that he was illegally demoted after bringing concerns to his superiors, which is the only surviving count of the six from Loder’s original complaint. It is the subject of a jury trial that kicked off at 8:30 a.m. in Portland on Monday. It is set to run through the week.

The state has denied his retaliation claim and the others, all of which would have obvious ramifications across the political spectrum in Maine. Top public safety officials have faced tough questions over operations at the Maine Intelligence Analysis Center, part of a nationwide network of so-called fusion centers that partner with federal agencies. A legislative attempt to defund the center died in 2021.

We have learned a bit more about the center since Loder’s lawsuit brought more attention to it. In mid-2020, state police took questions from reporters near the facility to answer some questions, but they still skirted some others around performance measures.

A leak of documents from the Maine center and others across the country two years ago showed police here monitoring racial-justice protests. Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck said it was done so police could help people assemble safely.

Loder is among the witnesses who could be called this week. Also on that list is retired Col. John Cote, who left the No. 1 state police job in September. The former trooper’s defense team, led by former Democratic state lawmaker Cynthia Dill, wants to talk to several FBI agents as well as Cote and Anna Love, a state police veteran who recently moved to the attorney general’s office.

The case will not necessarily turn on the allegations. Loder needs to prove that he was illegally demoted. The state has fired back by saying Loder had to return to being a trooper because he was turned down for another job at the end of his intelligence stint. A judge dismissed Loder’s claims against the fusion center and its leaders last year for legal reasons including qualified immunity for state police higher-ups.

It means that we may not get into forensic details on each of Loder’s claims in this trial. But the list of notable witnesses and the range of allegations mean that the trial will get plenty of attention in Augusta. It seems like it would take a lot for lawmakers to crack down on the center and its operations. There is always some potential for that, however, given the breadth of the claims here and how they hit among both liberals and conservatives.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...