AUGUSTA, Maine — At the first meeting of the independent commission investigating the Oct. 25 mass shootings in Lewiston, Maine, chairman Daniel E. Wathen said he hoped to have a written report on the response and events leading up to the massacre ready within six months.
Governor Janet Mills announced the formation of the commission earlier this month, as questions continued to mount about how multiple warnings regarding the man responsible for the shootings, an Army reservist named Robert R. Card II, did not prevent him from carrying out his assault on a bowling alley and a bar in Maine’s second-largest city, which left 18 dead.
Wathen said its report will include “detailed, factual findings,” including what action was taken and could have been taken to prevent the tragedy. He called that goal “very ambitious” but emphasized that accuracy and establishing truth would take priority over timeliness.
“I’m honored to be here today, but humbled by the charge that lays before us,” Wathen, former chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, said in his opening remarks.
The first meeting was primarily focused on logistical issues, including selecting staff, charting a methodology for its investigation, and requesting subpoena power.
“Several people have said to me in the last few days that this is a daunting task,” Wathen said. “And it certainly is a daunting task, but it is a task that each of us owe to the people of Maine.”
Wathen noted that Governor Janet Mills’s executive order calls for as much transparency as possible, but he said he could not anticipate legal or privacy concerns that may come up, “nor can we foresee whether everyone we approach will willingly cooperate in coming before a public forum.”
Wathen said the first step is likely to collect and examine all current reports, including those made by law enforcement and media. He said the body’s next meeting would take place Dec. 14, with details including location still being worked out.
Another commission member, Dr. Debra Baeder, former chief forensic psychologist for the State Forensic Service in Maine, motioned for the group to request subpoena power to interview witnesses and request documents.
Wathen said that power would be crucial to conducting a full investigation but noted that certain records, including disciplinary and psychiatric records, cannot be subpoenaed. He said subpoena power would likely have to be approved by the state legislature, which comes into session again in January.
Commission member George Dilworth, a former US district attorney, said it was “too bad we can’t get that authority until January.”
“That will probably slow us down a bit,” he said.
The body voted unanimously to request subpoena power.
In a joint statement issued shortly after the meeting concluded, Mills and Attorney General Aaron Frey said they would “do all we can” to provide the commission necessary resources for its investigation.
“To that end, we support the Independent Commission’s request, and our offices will immediately begin consulting with the Independent Commission and legislative leadership to prepare legislation granting the Commission the power of subpoena, with the goal of having that legislation prepared for the Legislature’s consideration at the beginning of the next session,” they said.
The panel’s seven members, who were appointed by the governor and include attorneys and psychiatrists, will be tasked with producing a report on the tragedy, with funding for the work coming from the state attorney general’s office.
In a letter to the commission, Mills charged them with presenting “the full and unvarnished facts” of the tragedy.
In addition to setting a timeline for its work, the commission approved four staff members Monday: attorney Anne Jordan, former chief of investigations for the attorney general Brian MacMaster, communications specialist Kevin Kelley, and former FBI chief of Maine Jim Osterrieder.
After the meeting concluded, commissioners spent around two hours setting up the phones and laptops provided by the state, on which commission members will conduct all official business.
Commissioners did not take questions.