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During the Robert Card manhunt, this Army reservist had intel. He couldn't find someone to listen

Deputy Matthew Noyes of the Androscoggin County Sheriff's Office gives testimony Thursday, March 7, 2024, in Augusta, Maine, during a hearing of the independent commission investigating the law enforcement response to the mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Robert F. Bukaty
/
AP
Deputy Matthew Noyes of the Androscoggin County Sheriff's Office gives testimony Thursday, March 7, 2024, in Augusta, Maine, during a hearing of the independent commission investigating the law enforcement response to the mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine.

Androscoggin Sheriffs Deputy Matthew Noyes had a lot of information to share about Robert Card shortly after he committed the worst mass shooting in state history last October.

But Noyes on Thursday told the commission investigating the massacre that the Maine State Police officials overseeing the manhunt were reluctant to listen.

Noyes' testimony was part of extensive questioning by the commission, which heard from Card's fellow Army reservists for the first time and pushed them to explain their efforts to get him into mental health treatment and follow up with local law enforcement about seizing his firearms. All five of them were subpoenaed by the commission and testified under oath. Like Noyes, some of them had attempted to intervene when Card's mental health deteriorated, leading to a confrontation in July that prompted his commanders to order him to have a psychiatric evaluation.

While the commission probed those interactions on Thursday, it also focused on steps the Army took after Card was discharged from a psychiatric hospital in New York and its subsequent contacts with the Sagadahoc County Sheriff's Office as his paranoia and threats intensified.

Public documents released before the meeting have raised questions about whether Card's superiors in the Army could have done more prior to the Oct. 25 shooting that killed 18 and injured 13 others.

One of those Reserve leaders, 1st Sgt. Kelvin Mote, who is also a police officer in Ellsworth, received much of the commission's attention on Thursday.

Mote was involved in the decision last July that Card needed a psychiatric evaluation while his unit was preparing to train U.S. Military Academy cadets on firearms and explosives. Card got into an altercation with a friend and repeatedly accused fellow reservists as well as total strangers of suggesting he was a pedophile. Card then locked himself into his room, refusing to talk to Mote and other senior officers.

Mote told commission members that he remembers how Card responded that July morning when the New York State Police troopers told the reservist that his unit leaders were concerned about his mental health.

"And I remember it clear as day him saying, 'Yeah, because they're afraid I am going to do something,'" Mote said. "And then he said the words that I put in my statement to Sagadahoc County (sheriffs): 'I am capable.' That was enough for me. At that moment, I decided he was going to the hospital, one way or another."

That exchange was captured on body cam video released last month by the New York State Police. Mote and three other reservists would eventually drive Card to an Army hospital, accompanied by state police. Card would spend the next two weeks in a private psychiatric hospital before returning to Maine in early-August.

Six weeks later, another reservist told Mote that Card's paranoia was getting worse and that he feared his friend would commit a mass shooting or attack their Saco unit. Mote passed those concerns along to Sagadahoc County sheriffs and asked deputies to conduct a welfare check on Card for the Army.

Mote testified that he believed that Maine's so-called "yellow flag" law could have been used on Card at that time. The law creates a process for police to temporarily confiscate firearms from individuals deemed to pose a threat to themselves or others. Sagadahoc deputies tried over several days to contact Card but either wasn't home or didn't answer his door. The deputies have also previously testified that they were unable to use the yellow flag law because they never made face-to-face contact with Card.

But upon more questioning from Paula Silsby, former U.S. Attorney and commission member, Mote said he never contacted Army programs available for reservists struggling with mental health issues.

"So when you passed it off to Sagadahoc County Sheriff's Office, you felt that you had handled the situation?" Silsby asked.

"Yes, ma'am," he replied.

At one point Mote was asked about his reaction when he learned that Card had committed the mass shooting that he and other reservists had feared.

"It broke my heart," he said while fighting back his emotions. "We gave him options, we took him to a hospital. Nobody else did that."

Army Reserve First Sgt. Kelvin Mote reacts while talking about the moment her heard about the mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, during a hearing of the independent commission investigating the law enforcement's response, Thursday, March 7, 2024, in Augusta, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Robert F. Bukaty
/
AP
Army Reserve First Sgt. Kelvin Mote reacts while talking about the moment her heard about the mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, during a hearing of the independent commission investigating the law enforcement's response, Thursday, March 7, 2024, in Augusta, Maine.

Reserve unit commander Capt. Jeremy Reamer, a police officer in Nashua, N.H., was also grilled extensively about his efforts to follow-up with the Sagadahoc County Sheriff's Office.

Noyes also served with Card in the Army Reserves and he was part of the team that escorted him to that psychiatric evaluation in New York a few months before the shootings.

He also assisted in the manhunt for Card on Oct. 25.

Noyes told the commission that he attempted to brief a Maine State Police detective about Card the night of the shooting, but that he was only given a couple of minutes to do so.

He also criticized state police's management of the manhunt, which he described as chaotic and marked by poor communication.

"I've heard a lot of critique about self-dispatching and self-deploying," he said. "I also agree that this can be a dangerous situation and cause inevitably more chaos. However, self-dispatching is what happens as a result of little to no direction in the field."

Noyes was referring to previous testimony from state police officials, who said local police took it upon themselves to look for Card, complicating the search.

Commission chairman Daniel Wathen said some witnesses who testified Thursday might have to be called back because the Army had sent a large tranche of documents the night before the hearing that most commissioners had not reviewed.

For that reason, some of the commission's questioning centered on establishing the reservists' roles and training and their interactions with Card.

Noyes was one of the reservists who intervened last July when Card began exhibiting threatening behavior and got into an altercation with a member of his unit. He was one of the reservists who appeared in body camera footage released in February that showed New York State Police confronting Card during an Army training mission, although his identity was obscured by the video.

It was during that encounter that Card was ordered by his Army superiors to get a psychiatric evaluation at Keller Army Community Hospital. He would later spend two weeks at a private psychiatric hospital, but neither that stay, nor subsequent warnings from reservists to local law enforcement, would prevent him from carrying out the worst mass shooting in Maine history.

Noyes told the commission that he wished more had been done after the incident in July, but he also thought the intervention might have worked. He and other reservists also believed the responsibility to remove Card's weapons rested with local law enforcement because they had no authority to do it themselves.

"I felt good about what we did," Noyes said about getting Card to a hospital in July. "I thought he got the help he needed."

Police reports indicate that sheriffs deputies twice attempted to contact Card at his residence in Bowdoin in mid-September, but he did not answer the door either time. Sagadahoc sheriffs also released a teletype, alerting other law enforcement that Card was missing, armed and dangerous.

The sheriff’s office canceled that alert on Oct. 18, one week before Card carried out the shootings.

Noyes' testimony further revealed tensions between the Maine State Police and local law enforcement that were evident during the manhunt and have repeatedly surfaced during the commission's investigation.

Local authorities have come under scrutiny for not using Maine's yellow flag law to confiscate Card's arsenal of weapons, which one reservist pegged as worth between $20,000 and $30,000.

The Maine State Police has been criticized for a prolonged manhunt that shut down schools and businesses and ended nearly two days after the shooting when Card's body was found in a tractor-trailer about a mile from where he abandoned his car at a Lisbon boat launch on the night of the shooting. The trailer was located in a parking lot at a recycling center that had once employed him.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.