Gov. Janet Mills and Attorney General Aaron Frey appointed seven members to the commission that will hold its first meeting Monday in Augusta. The Oct. 25 mass shooting at a bowling alley and bar in Lewiston left 18 people dead and 13 injured, making it the deadliest shooting in Maine’s modern history and the nation’s 10th deadliest on record.
Here is what we know about the commission’s work, what questions we have and how it has played politically so far.
What will the Lewiston mass shooting commission review and uncover?
Mills and Frey, both Democrats, directed the commission to find out the “full and unvarnished facts” of the shooting, the months leading up to it and the law enforcement response to it.
In a letter to commission members, Mills and Frey mentioned “multiple occasions” in the months preceding the shooting in which people shared concerns about the gunman’s mental health and behavior with his Army Reserve unit along with police agencies in Maine and New York.
The governor and attorney general acknowledged that those contacts raised questions about the response to those concerns about Robert R. Card II, a 40-year-old Army reservist from Bowdoin, and what more could have been done to prevent his shooting rampage.
The commission is also likely to review the 48-hour manhunt for Card that featured shelter-in-place orders in the Lewiston area and ended when police found the shooter dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Police had twice searched the Lisbon recycling center where Card previously worked but overlooked a lot where his body was eventually found.
Mills’ executive order creating the commission said it should explore Card’s mental health history, contact with state, federal and military authorities, access to firearms, the initial police response to the shooting, the manhunt and any other “relevant” matters.
The Army Reserve has also launched two internal investigations into what happened before the mass shooting.
Who is serving on the commission?
Former Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Daniel Wathen will chair the commission. Wathen served on the high court from 1981 to 2001. Since 1990, he has served as the court master overseeing a landmark settlement against Maine’s mental health system.
The other members are Debra Baeder, Maine’s former chief forensic psychologist; Toby Dilworth, a former assistant U.S. attorney; Geoffrey Rushlau, a former Maine judge and district attorney; Ellen Gorman, a former high-court justice; Dr. Anthony Ng, medical director of community services for Northern Light Acadia Hospital; and former U.S. Attorney Paula Silsby.
Commission members will not be paid under the governor’s executive order.
How much time and funding does the commission have for its work?
Wathen is in charge of that, and there are no clear answers. Mills and Frey asked members to work with a “sense of urgency” but gave no deadline. The attorney general’s office will provide the funding under the terms of the executive order.
A Frey spokesperson said the funds will come from “various legal settlements” but that the total amount available has not been determined. Mills and Frey also told commission members that if they need additional funding or additional investigative power, their offices will seek any “appropriate authorization” from the Legislature.
Will the public be available to review commission documents and findings?
Mills and Frey asked the commission to ultimately prepare a formal report on the results of the investigation that will be released to the public. They encouraged the commission “to conduct its work in public to the greatest extent possible” without hindering the probe. The commission has been given no explicit subpoena power.
But Mills’ executive order said the commission’s records, deliberations and proceedings are not subject to all provisions of the state’s Freedom of Access Act governing open records and meetings because it is an “advisory body” that merely makes recommendations. Former Gov. Paul LePage used similar language when establishing a wind power commission in 2017.
Documents held by the commission would be subject to open-records laws after its work is done. Kevin Kelley, a former spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, is working in a similar role for the commission and has been notifying the media of developments while taking questions on the general scope of work.
How do lawmakers and experts view the commission?
Some lawmakers and observers have called for all of its work to be made public and questioned why no current law enforcement experts, legislators or Lewiston residents are on it.
Rep. Adam Lee, a Democrat from Lewiston’s twin city of Auburn, said Lewiston and Auburn have been “deeply harmed by this event,” pointing to how Florida lawmakers created a commission to investigate the 2018 Parkland high school shooting that featured law enforcement, residents, legislators, mental health specialists and academics.
“I’m sure it will do good work,” Lee said of the Lewiston commission. “I do, however, believe its limited scope will leave many questions unanswered and require the establishment of a more robust and inclusive commission to be established by the Legislature.”
Other lawmakers from the region are more noncommittal. For example, Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, issued a simple statement through a spokesperson saying she welcomed the committee’s work and that transparency will be paramount throughout the review.