Matt Foster, the district attorney for Downeast Maine, is claiming he didn’t post an image on Facebook last week likening Black Lives Matter activists to dogs and making light of deadly violence against “looters.” But a growing number of his constituents, including a state lawmaker now calling for a formal investigation, aren’t buying it.
After protests over the police killing of George Floyd took place on June 2 in the tiny city of Ellsworth, a Facebook post surfaced complaining that the protest was an inconvenience for the town. Foster replied to that post with a meme depicting actor Robert Downey Jr. looking relieved and the words, “WHEN YOU THOUGHT YOU HIT A DOG BUT TURNS OUT IT WAS JUST A LOOTER.”
Dr. Kevin Neves, who grew up in Maine and now teaches at Ohio’s Bowling Green State University, alerted his old hometown newspaper to Foster’s post. Cyndi Wood, managing editor of The Ellsworth American, contacted Foster and then told Neves the D.A. “said he did not post the meme and believes his account was hacked or spoofed.”
“Why would someone go to great lengths to hack the personal Facebook of a DA in a small city and then post one meme and nothing else?” a local college student and activist named Isabel Bohrer wrote in response. “Doesn’t stack up to me.”
“All I know is that I didn’t post that meme,” Foster told the Ellsworth paper last Friday. “I have changed my passwords and hopefully that solves the problem,” he continued. “I have searched Facebook for the post, but I have been unable to locate it and it appears to have been removed.”
Foster did not respond today to Mainer’s request for comment. The Republican D.A. is serving his second term prosecuting cases in rural Washington and Hancock counties.
Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey, a former Democratic state lawmaker, is satisfied with Foster’s implausible denial. He called the meme “disturbing,” but said that in light of the D.A.’s claim that he was “hacked,” there is “no basis” for an investigation.
State Rep. Genevieve McDonald disagrees. “I can’t say whether or not he was hacked, but either way it needs to be investigated,” McDonald, a Democrat, told Mainer. “We are communicating with our constituents more than ever over social media during this pandemic. I want to know what should be done — should I have concerns about this?”
Although Foster allegedly believes that one or more of his passwords were obtained by a malicious person or persons, he told the Ellsworth paper he does not plan to report the security breach to police.
Wood, the newspaper editor, is also satisfied with Foster’s denial. “In this digital age, [hacking is] a hard thing to prove or disprove,” she wrote to Neves last week. “An official in Brewer reported something similar happening with his social media accounts,” she added.
That would be Thomas Morelli, who resigned in disgrace last week from his job as Brewer’s deputy mayor after police charged him with filing a false report. Morelli had lied that his Facebook page was hacked by someone posting racist comments about Floyd’s killing.
Andy Schmidt, a Portland attorney whose firm specializes in worker-justice cases, filed a formal complaint today with the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar*. The D.A. “posted an incendiary and offensive meme that cuts to the heart of the integrity of the judicial system by seeming to celebrate the extra-judicial murder of alleged criminals, or it was posted from his account,” Schmidt told the board, which governs the conduct of lawyers. “If his account [was] hacked … that itself must be investigated because it would seem to be a sophisticated plot to undermine Maine’s judicial system.”
“[T]he onus is now on [Foster] to prove that he did not make the post and that his subsequent statements were truthful,” Schmidt continued. “Otherwise it is impossible for the courts to dispense justice without the hint of racism while he is making prosecutorial decisions.”
Foster’s credibility is eroding fast. “If this is in fact the DA’s post … I am appalled,” wrote Ellsworth resident Kristen Schlaefer. “I am seriously concerned about the outcome if a black murder by police were to occur in the Downeast region and this is the first line of accountability.”
“It seems to me if you were actually hacked, and your name was being hauled through the mud all over everywhere, you’d want an investigation to clear your name,” Schlaefer wrote today on Facebook. “The only scenario I can think of where you wouldn’t want an investigation is if you’re lying.”
*An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported that Schmidt lodged his complaint with the Maine State Bar Association, which does not have the power to govern lawyers’ conduct.