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News Center Maine: Maine sheriff says ‘yellow flag’ law not working as intended, but state hopes to strengthen it

By January 31, 2024March 1st, 2024News

This story was published by News Center Maine. View the story online through the link below or read a snippet copied from the article, below.

Gov. Janet Mills announced new legislation designed to help strengthen the law during her State of the State address Tuesday night.

PORTLAND, Maine — “Useless.” That’s the word one Maine sheriff used to describe a state law intended to separate people from their weapons when they are suspected to be a serious risk to themselves or others.

Kevin Joyce of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office detailed the roadblocks his deputies faced while trying to activate Maine’s “yellow flag” law just one month after the Lewiston mass shootings. Joyce said his deputies faced similar challenges Sagadahoc County deputies encountered while trying to separate the Lewiston shooter, Robert Card, from his guns before the Oct. 25 massacre.

“Their hands are tied in these situations,” Ben Strick, Spurwink’s director of adult behavioral health, said. “This [problem] showed itself in multiple scenarios, not just one. When there’s probable cause, the person is mentally ill and poses a likelihood of serious harm, the only option is protective custody.”

The state contracts with Spurwink, a health agency that performs the medical evaluations specifically for yellow flag law weapons restrictions orders. Prior to the Lewiston shootings, Spurwink said it performed 46 assessments in 10 months. In the three months after the shootings, Spurwink performed 85, including nine with references to “Robert Card,” “Lewiston,” or “mass shootings.”

Strick said the agency now averages about one weapons restrictions order assessment per day.

“The discussion certainly changed after Lewiston. I think the urgency to make changes in the statute was increased,” Strick said.