August 14, 2018

Maine Warden Service: Taking Their Ball and Going Home

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According to the Bangor Daily News (BDN), after a paragraph by paragraph rebuttal to a newspaper article, read before a hand-selected group of “lawmakers,” accusing the Maine Warden Service (MWS) of improper undercover tactics and refusing to release documents requested under the Freedom of Information Access Law (FOIA), the head of the MWS announced it was suspending all undercover operations and blamed the press for forcing their hand.

Col. Joel Wilkinson, of the MWS, said it was necessary to stop all undercover operations to protect his officers and the integrity of the department. He pointed specifically to the issue of the Maine Sunday Telegram (Portland Press Herald) publishing a photograph of the undercover agent who seems to be the focus of the newspaper’s investigation.

I have to agree that releasing that picture was a pretty irresponsible thing to do, stupid too, if for no other reason than to protect the man and his family from the psychos we hear and read about everyday. One also has to wonder if the Portland Press Herald (PPH) did that intentionally to destroy the integrity of the MWS. Are they targeting the LePage Administration?

However, I have made it clear, that even though the Maine Courts have scrutinized all of these cases, and did not find the MWS guilty of breaching any undercover guidelines, the rules regulating undercover operations for all Maine law enforcement need a review and the elimination of the allowances for law enforcement to deliberately break any laws the rest of us are expected to adhere to, for the sole purpose of catching a thief. Trained or not trained, no law enforcement officer should be permitted to break the laws on the books in hopes of making an arrest, with perhaps the exception of saving a life.

For those who have been following my reports and commentary, where does this leave Maine citizens in answer to questions surrounding what appears to be stonewalling by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) and the MWS of FOIA document requests?

All that the BDN chose to report in regards to the document information request was to say that the MWS responded, in explanation, that they would only respond to requests for information that were done in writing, out of fear that any verbal communication would be twisted or taken out of context and used in ways, “to benefit the intent of the article.” For my purposes, this is not an acceptable or a sufficient answer to why the PPH has not received the documents they have requested – at least those in writing.

In addition, the MDIFW/MWS expressed concern over what might happen to information exchanged verbally, fearing it would only benefit the newspapers, that same concern exists in the reverse. I refuse to use verbal communication for very valuable information and will only accept it in writing because reports stemming from unrecorded verbal communications become a he said – she said argument. I do understand the concern of the MWS and I believe it is the prerogative of the MWS to seek all requests in writing.

To me, it appears the stonewalling continues and the actions and reactions of all parties involved suggest that the MWS is deflecting attention away from the FOIA legal issue and putting it on the Service’s desire to terminate undercover operations as a form of retribution toward the newspaper via manipulation of public opinion.

The PPH gave the MDIFW and the MWS a convenient opportunity to employ such a tactic when they decided to publish a photograph of the undercover MWS agent. That wasn’t too brilliant a move – retaliatory maybe, but not smart.

I think the MWS jumped on this opportunity to play on the public’s perception, as any well-greased governmental agency would do, and by doing such can draw more attention away from perhaps a real screw up in refusing or delaying the release of right-to-know information. One can only speculate.

How anyone chooses to view this entire operation, for sure, nobody wins. The only victory that citizens can hope for is a correction and resolution to the FOIA issue, in hopes that it will help to preserve that man-given right into the future – for whatever it is worth.

Don’t hold your breath!

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