The Maine Warden Service issued a 2,800-word response to the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram’s investigation of the service’s undercover operation in Allagash. The response contains several erroneous or misleading statements. Among them:
Warden Service statement: “The story leads the reader to believe that the Maine Warden Service only produced a 16-page document and 35 emails in response to the author’s request. In reality, the Department has produced over 232 documents, for which the Portland Press Herald and their attorneys have paid.”
Press Herald response: False. Only 35 emails have been released in response to the Press Herald’s public records request for communications with “North Woods, Law,” despite more than six months of effort. In a separate request for the warden service’s policy for undercover investigations, the newspaper received a single, highly redacted, 16-page document with 15 pages mostly blacked out. The wardens may be conflating the Press Herald request with documents produced for the Kennebec Journal in 2015 in connection with a separate August 2014 public records request. Those were not the documents that the Press Herald requested.
Warden Service statement: “The Office of the Attorney General determined the Maine Warden Service was compliant with Maine’s Freedom of Access Act. The Maine Warden Service continues to work with the Attorney General’s Office to guide the release of records requested.”
Press Herald response: The Warden Service attempted to make this claim during the newspaper’s extensive correspondence with them and the Attorney General Office’s public records ombudsman in an ongoing attempt to secure the wardens’ compliance with public records law. The entire conversation has been posted on the Press Herald’s website since Sunday.
Warden Service statement: “(Reporter Colin) Woodard resisted staff attempts to clarify the scope of his request, which would have reduced staff time and costs incurred by the requester. The Warden Service even dedicated time to create summary documents – which is not required under FOAA – in an attempt to expedite the request and make the process more efficient for Woodard.”
Press Herald response: The newspaper rejected the Warden Service’s attempt to narrow the records request. The Warden Service did not create summary documents for this request and is likely confusing its actions in 2014 and 2015 – before the Press Herald’s investigation began – with ones taken for this public records request, with which it still has not complied. Last fall, the Press Herald did request and receive a one-page summary document that it discovered had been improperly omitted from the documents the wardens had agreed to produce for the Kennebec Journal.
Warden Service statement: “The vegetables were in canning jars that were identical to and packaged with the illegal moose meat.”
Press Herald response: The newspaper’s story included a photograph of the vegetables taken by the wardens themselves on the night of the raid. They do not look like moose meat.
Warden Service statement: “At the time (the canned vegetables) were returned, Ms. Kelly signed for the return of the property.”
Press Herald response: The story reported that the wardens returned 33 cans of vegetables and also their claim that they had seized no others. Kelly, however, said 77 jars of vegetables and peaches were never returned.
Warden Service statement: Hope Kelly’s canned meats were “erroneously described by the author as ‘meat never proven to be illicit.’”
Press Herald response: The wardens dropped all charges against Kelly the night before her trial was to begin, so their claims that her canned meat was illicit were never proven. Nor did the newspaper find any evidence in undercover warden Bill Livezey’s voluminous reports that he had found any such evidence. Kelly has claimed the meat was from animals that her siblings legally shot.
Warden Service statement: “At no point did the Warden Service seize peaches.”
Press Herald response: Hope Kelly says the wardens took 110 jars of vegetables and peaches, and later returned 33 jars of vegetables. The evidence photo taken by the wardens and included in the newspaper’s story clearly shows a jar of peaches.