The head of a gun-rights group and two legislators called for a probe into allegations that a Maine State Police unit illegally collected and maintained data in 2017 and 2018, while former Gov. Paul LePage denied knowledge of any surveillance of that kind.
Many state officials — including Gov. Janet Mills — have been mum following a Bangor Daily News report on Thursday of a lawsuit by a state trooper, George Loder, who alleged that he experienced employment discrimination after he told his supervisors that the Maine Information and Analysis Center was illegally gathering data on Maine residents.
Protesters who opposed the Central Maine Power corridor, employees of a summer camp and people who legally purchased guns were among the groups that were illegally surveilled, according to the lawsuit, which was filed this month in U.S. District Court.
Among Loder’s allegations are that the state police created a de facto “registry” of gun owners by indefinitely retaining federal background check data relating to legal firearm purchases. Federal law mandates that such information be destroyed within 24 hours. The Maine Legislature passed a 2017 law barring any state agency from creating a list of legal gun owners.
David Trahan, the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, a gun-rights group that lobbied for that law, said an independent investigation of the claims in the lawsuit should be done “sooner rather than later.”
“If they’re doing this, then somebody’s job should be on the line and I don’t know what the other consequences should be,” he said. “It’s very concerning. Holy cow.”
A spokesperson for the office of Attorney General Aaron Frey said the state would be disputing the allegations in court. Spokespeople for Frey and the Maine Department of Public Safety did not respond to specific questions on background check data on Thursday.
Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, a co-chair of the Legislature’s criminal justice committee, said the allegations deserve a full review and a “completely transparent process.” She said the committee should call Public Safety Commissioner Mike Sauschuck in for a public hearing once the Legislature returns.
Sen. Susan Deschambault, D-Biddeford, the other co-chair of the panel overseeing state police, said she could not comment on anything that was pending.
Sen. Kim Rosen, R-Bucksport, a member of the Legislature’s criminal justice committee, said it was too early to say much at the current stage in the lawsuit, but she said the alleged behavior was “the wrong thing to do.”
“But I think the investigation needs to go further, and they do need an outside investigation,” she said.
Representatives for Mills, a Democrat who was attorney general when the allegations described in the lawsuit allegedly occurred, did not respond to a request for comment. LePage, a Republican who was in office at that time, said in a Thursday statement that he did not direct illegal surveillance of any Mainer and did not recall being made aware of the alleged activities.
“I hope and trust the court proceedings will shine light on this,” LePage said.
The former governor emphasized his support for the Second Amendment and freedom of speech, as well as for Seeds for Peace, the camp for Arab and Israeli teens where employees were allegedly surveilled. LePage said it was important to “retain a dose of skepticism in employee-employer disputes,” adding that “we should allow the courts to do their job.”
Loder, the plaintiff, declined comment when a BDN reporter went to his Scarborough home on Thursday evening, saying the reporter should speak to Cynthia Dill, his attorney. She declined to comment earlier in the day.
The American Civil Liberties Union has also called for an investigation into the claims. The nonprofit has long criticized the Maine Intelligence Analysis Center, an agency created in 2006 to facilitate intelligence sharing between federal, state, local and tribal governments.
Sandi Howard, director of Say No to NECEC, the group that has led the charge for a November referendum on the CMP corridor, said she was “troubled” by the allegations in a statement Thursday afternoon. The suit alleges that the police unit used social media to gather information about individuals who attended a protest against the corridor in September 2018.
“We are hopeful that this situation will be cleared up quickly and transparently,” Howard said.
BDN writers Michael Shepherd, Judy Harrison, Lori Valigra and Nick Schroeder contributed to this report.