Sergeant criticized for handling of Lewiston shooter is now running for sheriff

A Maine sergeant who has been criticized by an investigatory panel for his handling of a report about a man who later carried out a mass shooting is running for sheriff, state records show.

Sgt. Aaron Skolfield of the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office is running as a Republican against his boss, Sheriff Joel Merry, who is a Democrat.

Skolfield was criticized in a report last week from a commission that looked into events preceding the deadliest mass shooting in Maine history, in which Robert Card killed 18 people in a bowling alley and a restaurant in Lewiston. Five weeks before the Oct. 25 shooting, Skolfield responded to a call that Card was suffering from a mental health crisis.

MAINE SHERIFF HAD PROBABLE CAUSE TO DETAIN MAINE GUNMAN BEFORE MASS SHOOTING, INDEPENDENT REPORT CLAIMS

A commission convened by the governor and attorney general to review the facts of the shooting found that Skolfield should have realized he had probable cause to start the state’s “yellow flag” process, which can be used to remove guns from a potentially dangerous person.

Neither Skolfield nor Merry responded to calls seeking comment about the commission’s report last week, and neither responded to calls Tuesday about the election. Both men defended the sheriff’s office’s actions during a January hearing in front of the commission.

Sgt. Aaron Skolfield responds to questioning, Jan. 25, 2024, in Augusta, Maine, during a hearing of the independent commission investigating the law enforcement response to the mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine. Skolfield, a Maine sergeant whose actions prior to the Lewiston mass shooting were criticized by an investigatory panel, has pulled papers to run for sheriff. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

During the hearing, Skolfield described himself as “just a simple street cop” who responded to Card’s home in September. He said that Card “wouldn’t come out, wouldn’t talk, wouldn’t communicate.”

However, the Lewiston commission’s report stated that Skolfield “made only limited attempts to accomplish a ‘face-to-face’ meeting with Mr. Card.” The report also stated that Skolfield “failed to consult the agency’s records concerning a previous complaint about Mr. Card” and “failed to follow up on leads to determine how to contact Mr. Card,” among other criticisms.

The filing with the state about Skolfield’s bid for county sheriff contains only limited information. It states that he registered on Feb. 12, a couple of weeks after testifying before the Lewiston commission. It also says he has appointed a treasurer and is using traditional campaign financing. The election is this year.

Skolfield’s testimony in January came during one of several public sessions held by the commission. He and other law enforcement officials expressed frustration with implementing the state’s yellow flag law during the sessions.

The commission is expected to provide a full report of its findings this summer.

Card, an Army reservist, was found dead by suicide after a two-day search following the shootings. He had been well known to law enforcement before the killings, and the extent to which the shootings could have been prevented has been an intense source of scrutiny in the months since.

In May, relatives warned police that Card had grown paranoid, and they expressed concern about his access to guns. Card was hospitalized in a psychiatric unit for two weeks in July after shoving a fellow reservist and locking himself in a motel room.

In August, the Army barred Card from handling weapons while on duty and declared him nondeployable. In September, a fellow reservist texted an Army supervisor about his growing concerns about Card, saying, “I believe he’s going to snap and do a mass shooting.”

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