Former trooper, state police leader give conflicting testimony about retaliation claims

Dec. 1—A former detective suing Maine State Police for professional retaliation said he felt forced to take a demotion after reporting what he believed was illegal activity at the state police intelligence center.

George Loder, who retired from the Maine State Police in April, took the stand in U.S. District Court in Portland on Wednesday and described to jurors his introduction to law enforcement, the various positions he's held over the last few decades and what ultimately led him to take a demotion from state detective to trooper three years before retiring.

"I loved it," Loder testified Wednesday about his role on an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force that is at the center of his complaint. "It was a great position. I had the opportunity to liaise, or interact, with members of communities I had never interacted with before. ... It was an important job and it felt important doing it."

Loder alleges that he was taken off that task force and denied opportunities for professional advancement because he alerted federal officials to what he believed was illegal activity at the Maine Intelligence Analysis Center, which is overseen by Maine State Police. Attorneys for the state agency dispute this.

Col. John Cote, who led the agency from 2018 until retiring at the end of September, testified Wednesday that although he wasn't directly involved in Loder's reassignment, it was one of several the agency made at that time related to staffing shortages.

After Loder's attorney, Cynthia Dill, finished calling witnesses Wednesday, the state asked U.S. District Judge Jon Levy to rule in its favor, arguing Loder has failed to prove his claims. Levy allowed testimony to continue while he considers the motion.

Levy already had sided with the state in 2021 when he agreed to dismiss four of the six claims in Loder's complaint that were related to federal privacy laws. Levy ruled that because those allegations involved state agencies, not the federal government, they didn't fall under that federal law. This week's jury trial is based on Loder's remaining claims that the state police violated his rights under the Whistleblower Protection Act and the First Amendment. He is seeking damages for emotional distress.

Loder said Wednesday that he has lived in Scarborough for the last 20 years. He applied to the Maine State Police Academy and graduated as valedictorian in 1994. His first assignment was to a rural unit, covering Cumberland, Androscoggin and Oxford counties. A few years later he was assigned to patrol the turnpike.

In 2012, Loder was promoted to detective and shortly thereafter applied for a job with the Maine Intelligence Analysis Center, or MIAC, which was created through a 2006 executive order that authorized sharing intelligence between federal, state and local governments. It was one of dozens of similar intelligence and surveillance centers that were established across the country following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. MIAC leaders have since said the center's focus has pivoted away from terrorism toward domestic crimes.

Loder testified the job was more clerical than he expected, so he sought out opportunities to work in the field until someone suggested he apply to the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. He was accepted in 2013. He was still a Maine State Police employee but worked alongside federal agents on terrorism and national security cases.

In 2017, Lt. Michael Johnston took over managing the MIAC. Loder testified about several interactions he had with Johnston that he said were concerning examples of the state collecting information on private citizens not engaged in illegal activity.


Loder said he once received a tip about a "Middle Eastern man" renting a car. Using FBI resources, Loder determined there was no threat and didn't pursue it further. Loder said he later learned that Johnston received the same tip and conducted a similar search before logging the man's name and personal information — his date of birth, address and license number — in a weekly report.

When Loder investigated another tip about a "sovereign citizen" driving through a Dunkin' in an unregistered car, he said he did report that information to Johnson because the unregistered vehicle provided the reason, or "criminal nexus," to investigate someone. Johnston, however, said the Maine State Police didn't need a reason to investigate the man, Loder testified.

He said Johnston started pressuring him to share confidential FBI information. Loder said he was concerned by this because he didn't want certain names and personal information appearing in MIAC reports, when not all MIAC members were supposed to have that data.

At FBI trainings Loder attended, he said he learned about how similar information sharing had sabotaged the prosecution of cases where the FBI was involved. When he went to an attorney for the FBI for advice, she said he was supposed to be filling out a form every time he disclosed FBI information.

In May 2018, Loder said he told Johnston he had talked to FBI officials and wasn't supposed to be disclosing confidential information.

"He wasn't happy," Loder testified, remembering Johnston told him, "'I'll go down and talk to (the U.S. Attorney) myself to straighten this out.'"

A week and a half later, Loder said he learned that the Maine State Police was removing him from the task force and reassigning him to MIAC.

Things got "heated," Loder recalled. At the same time, Loder said he was experiencing health issues — piercing headaches from pressure behind his eye related to a prior injury. He needed surgery and had to take time off.

Both Johnston and Lt. Scott Ireland, another supervisor, denied these accounts Tuesday. Johnston has said he ordered Loder to attend weekly MIAC meetings, but that he never asked him to disclose confidential information.


Cote said that Loder's reassignment was part of the organization's move away from task forces in general. The Maine State Police is understaffed, Cote said, and the agency needs all of its troopers doing Maine-specific work. Cote said that when he retired in September only one officer was still doing task-force-related work with the U.S. Marshals.

After Loder returned to work, he said he was reassigned to an "in-and-out" style office with no windows in Augusta and was asked to collect information on private individuals who weren't threats. He didn't stay at the MIAC long. Loder said he was reassigned in 2018 once more to the turnpike as a trooper, losing his detective title.

"Was that a demotion?" asked Loder's attorney.

"It was," Loder said.

"Was it voluntary?"

"They'll tell you it was," Loder said. "I felt I had no choice."

State attorneys pointed out Loder was the one who initiated the change. They showed jurors an email he sent on Oct. 25, 2018, asking to be reassigned and acknowledging the move would entail losing his detective title and earning a lower base salary.

"But actually, as it turns out ... you earned substantially more money than your salary as a detective," Assistant Attorney General Paul Suitter said. In a deposition before the trial, Loder said he earned more money working overtime as a state trooper than as a salaried state detective. He's also earning more in retirement benefits now, state attorneys said, because he earned higher pay during his last three years on road patrol.