Former state Sen. Robert Nutting speaks at a press conference Wednesday at the State House in Augusta. Nutting urged the governor to better implement the Progressive Treatment Program he helped create, which he said could have been used to get Robert Card help, and take away his guns, before he carried out a mass shooting in Lewiston. Aryan Rai/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Former state Sen. John Nutting is advocating for better implementation of the decade-old Progressive Treatment Program that he said could have prevented the Lewiston shootings in which 18 people lost their lives and 13 others were injured.

“Ideally, law enforcement and the health care community should work hand-in-hand to identify who should be hospitalized, but we still don’t have that in Maine,” Nutting, a Democrat, said at a press conference Wednesday morning at the State House.

Under the program, a superintendent of a psychiatric hospital, the commissioner, a medical practitioner, a legal guardian or even a law enforcement officer can obtain an order from a court to admit a patient for treatment if they suffer from severe mental illness or are likely to cause serious harm.

The court can order a patient to be committed for care for up to 12 months, which can be extended another year, directing the patient to follow an individualized treatment plan. The court may also prohibit the patient from having firearms and require them to give up any firearms they already own within 24 hours of the order.

Nutting sponsored the statewide expanded Progressive Treatment Program bill in 2010 with former Republican state Sen. Peter Mills, the older brother of Gov. Janet Mills and executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority.

The bill passed 32-3 in the House and 126-17 in the Senate. And yet, adequate implementation is missing, Nutting said.


The case of Robert Card, the Lewiston gunman, highlighted holes in the system, raising urgent questions about how those with mental health issues in Maine can access firearms.

Card’s family was aware of his worsening condition and had even reported it to the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office. There were clear signs. Card had distanced himself from his family and said he was hearing voices. He was under the impression that people were calling him a pedophile.

Nutting highlighted Card’s hospitalization in New York in July following an incident where he accused three soldiers of calling him a pedophile and locked himself in a room. Card spent 14 days at Four Winds, a psychiatric hospital in New York.

“He came home and was off his treatment plan. His family, on multiple occasions, contacted the local sheriff,” said Nutting. “That sheriff should have been trained and should have filed a (Progressive Treatment Program) order. He (Card) should have been put on a PTP program so he could be checked daily.”

The Progressive Treatment Program has been opposed by several groups that believe it takes away the rights of those suffering from severe brain disorders like schizophrenia and forces them into treatment.

Members of the Maine chapter of the National Shattering Silence Coalition, who were in attendance at Wednesday’s press conference, countered that some people don’t realize they need help because of a medical condition called anosognosia.


Anosognosia is the inability to recognize a defect or disorder that is clinically evident. The National Library of Medicine defines it as a neurological condition in which the patient is unaware of their neurological deficit or psychiatric condition.

Yaicha Provencher, while holding back tears and catching her breath between sentences, told the story of Justin Butterfield, the father of her children, who was suffering from psychosis and killed his brother last Thanksgiving.

“My desperate attempts to get treatment for him were ignored or not taken seriously. He was another Mainer who was not given the right to get proper treatment,” said Provencher. “I am speaking solely from my experience; however, it is our reality. It is what happens when we neglect to be proactive in our intervention for individuals with severe brain disorders. When families of these individuals, who know them best, are ignored. Then, tragedy strikes.”

Forty-eight other other states have similar laws. But, according to Nutting, the state Department of Health and Human Services has refused to train law enforcement to utilize it in Maine. The agency has also refused to collect Progressive Treatment Program data and forward it to the National Institute of Health.

Nutting implored the governor to direct the departments to “do the job and implement the program.”

“Governor Mills announced that she was going to form a commission to study what went wrong with law enforcement concerning Lewiston. Our group feels that this investigation will only be complete if they also investigate why Maine’s PTP law is not used more to help individuals with the most serious brain disorders, who have anosognosia.”

Jackie Farwell, a spokesperson for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said the agency is “always open to good ideas about how to help protect the health and safety of Maine people,” and that it has implemented the program in line with state law.

“(The department) is deeply committed to working with law enforcement and the broader medical and behavioral health community to support individuals with complex mental health needs and to protect the safety and wellbeing of Maine people,” Farwell said.

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