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Sergeant faulted for actions before Maine mass shooting is running for sheriff

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — 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.

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. Skolfield did not respond to a request for comment about the election on Tuesday. Merry said via email on Tuesday that he is seeking reelection because “there is work that needs to be done to further the mission of our agency” and he feels he is up to the task.

“Should another law enforcement officer choose to run for the office of Sheriff, that is entirely their prerogative, and not something I have control over. Ultimately, it will be up to the citizens of Sagadahoc County to decide,” Merry wrote.

Both men defended the sheriff's office's actions during a January hearing in front of the commission. 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 commission's report stands in contrast to an earlier independent review released by Merry in December. That report concluded that Skolfield “did not have sufficient grounds to take Mr. Card into protective custody, which also foreclosed his discretion to initiate the process for confiscation of Mr. Card’s firearms.”

That report was prepared by Michael Cunniff, a Portland attorney who is a former supervisory special agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Merry said at the time that the review “found that responding deputies followed the law and their training with the information available at the time.”

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.”