Supervisors of aggrieved trooper say they never asked him to break the law




  • In US
  • 2022-11-30 09:04:00Z
  • By Portland Press Herald, Maine

Nov. 30-Two former state police supervisors testified Tuesday that they never encouraged a detective who is suing the agency to break any laws or policies when they directed him to share information with them about his work with a federal task force.

Lt. Michael Johnston, who was a sergeant and managed the Maine Information and Analysis Center in 2017 and 2018, said he never asked George Loder to exceed what Loder believed were the limits of what he could discuss about the work he performed for the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Johnston said he deferred to Loder's judgment about what he could tell them, but Loder still declined to discuss much of anything and never told them at the time that he believed MIAC's intelligence unit was improperly collecting information on citizens engaged in lawful activity, including CMP protestors.

"I told him to share information that was fully in compliance with all state and federal laws and regulations," Johnston said. "That was the only guidance I ever gave him. I don't recall him sharing any substantive information at those meetings."

Loder, of Scarborough, is suing the state police for alleged professional retaliation and is seeking damages for emotional distress, claiming he was removed from the federal task force and denied a lateral job transfer after he raised concerns with the agency that the MIAC's information gathering and retention methods were illegal and violated federal privacy regulations.

Loder contends that complying with the requests from his supervisors would have broken federal regulations, and his removal from the position was retribution for raising the alarm about what he believed were other illegal information-handling practices at the MIAC.

But the supervisors say they never wanted Loder to share protected information, and they rebuffed claims that their handling of police intelligence was illegal or improper in any way.

Two FBI intelligence analysts testified Tuesday that Loder had brought his concerns about what he believed were the MIAC's questionable information-collection practices to them before. One analyst estimated Loder had brought up the topic about five times over several months.

But state police have said that Loder never made the allegations of improper practices until after he was ordered to return to the MIAC to backfill a retiring detective's role performing firearm and professional licensing checks, undermining his claim that they knew about his allegations and removed him from the task force for blowing the whistle.

Johnston testified that he tried to get Loder to participate in regular MIAC staff meetings, where he was expected to discuss some aspects of his work. But Loder declined, Johnston said, and would only share specific information with Johnston directly.

Johnson also said that the federal privacy laws that Loder believed the Maine center had violated actually did not apply to the internal activity log that MIAC maintained, meaning there could not be a breach of the law.

Johnston said the directive to spur more cooperation was an FBI initiative to bring federal and state law enforcement closer together in day-to-day work. Loder never alleged to him that the MIAC's information-gathering practices were illegal until later, after Loder was taken off the task force to fill an open position at the MIAC, which is in Augusta.

"We'd talk about a particular case, a particular trend or a tactic used in a criminal incident," Johnston said. "It would be a good way to de-conflict. It wasn't super-deep and in-depth, it was more a general awareness of what people were doing and what they were working on."

Johnston said he even asked for an outside opinion on whether Loder was prohibited from sharing information about his work, and was told by an assistant U.S. attorney in Portland who specialized in national security that there was nothing preventing Loder from sharing more information, Johnston testified.

When Loder continued to refuse to share information, Johnston marked it as an area in need of improvement in a 2018 performance review. Loder was called away from the task force a short time later.

Another of Loder's supervisors, Lt. Scott Ireland, who was Johnston's boss, said that when Loder was recalled back to the MIAC, they had a series of meetings on May 15 and May 16 during which Loder was irate, screaming and yelling in a way he had never witnessed. Loder complained about having to make a longer commute from Scarborough to Augusta, and then later alleged to Ireland that the MIAC was engaged in illegal information collection.

Loder was so upset he would not listen to reason, Ireland said.

"I'd never seen anything like it in my life," Ireland said. "He lost control. He could not have a rational conversation that two adults would have. Totally lost control, would not let us speak, he would not let us get a word in. I told him he was being insubordinate and he'd calm down and let me speak but then he'd go off again."

Ireland wrote up Loder for unprofessionalism, and he was eventually issued a corrective memo, the lowest form of discipline against a trooper.

Ireland testified that he made the decision to bring Loder back to the MIAC along with a higher-ranking officer, Major Christopher Grotton. The duties involved in Loder's new job were required by state law, including the licensing and background investigations of private investigators, along with handling some inquiries from the FBI about gun purchasers who raised red flags in a national database.

Ireland said he was generally aware that Loder had resisted sharing information about the task force, but the need to fulfill the weapons and licensing job was unavoidable. Ireland testified he did not find out about Loder's objections to MIAC's information-handling practices until after the decision to move Loder had already been finalized.

"I had a job I needed to fill," Ireland said.

Ireland never looked further into Loder's allegations after the explosive meeting because Loder provided no evidence to back up his assertion. Ireland said he knew the state police was not violating the law.

"We collectively met as a unit to see if we were missing anything," Ireland said. "I personally will not tolerate anything illegal going on in that center or anything inappropriate. He didn't give us detail. We asked what exactly are we doing illegal, and he couldn't. ... We knew we were right."

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