by Jen Lynds
We have all heard someone remark that a loved one needs to “face” reality. In truth, reality is not as universal an experience as we think it is. The world that a wealthy, beloved businessman lives in is not the same as one occupied by a poor, shy, reclusive man of the same age. We all live in Maine, but there are striking economic and population differences in each county. Everyone, no matter how similar they may seem, is different.
The reality experienced by some first responders hit home when I was in college, speaking to a classmate who once worked as a paramedic in New York City. While in college, he worked for an Aroostook County ambulance service. I speculated that it must have been more difficult working in the city, struggling to maneuver the ambulance down crowded streets and dealing with so many more victims of stabbings, shootings and beatings.
I was wrong.
“In New York City, if someone was stabbed on a street corner, there were so many police and fire and ambulance stations that help would arrive in just a few minutes,” he said. “Minutes later, the patient would be at a top notch trauma center cared for by physicians who’ve treated similar injuries thousands of times before. Here, paramedics could be racing to treat someone having a heart attack 20 or 30 miles away and then racing again to get them to a hospital even farther away. And then you get to the hospital and some patients are so sick that they need to be driven to a hospital more than 100 miles away. You feel so helpless.”
That is one reality of living in The County. People love each other. They’ll go out of their way to help you. But sometimes, help is a long way off, and there is no guarantee it will reach you in time.
It must be a sobering fact for law enforcement officers who patrol the vast expanse that is The County, an area the size of Rhode Island and Connecticut combined. Towns without police departments rely on the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department and the Maine State Police. Those agencies sometimes receive support from U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.
Earlier this week, I wrote about the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by the long-term partner of a Cyr Plantation man who was fatally shot by police in April 2010 in what the state attorney general’s office later deemed a justified shooting.
Neil Begin was shot by a Maine State Police trooper and a U.S. Border Patrol agent on April 23, 2010, inside the 54-year-old’s U.S. Route 1 mobile home.
The attorney general’s office ruled that officers were justified in shooting an intoxicated Begin after they were called to his home to investigate a complaint of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon.
While drinking on the night before the shooting, Begin argued with his adult son and threatened him by pointing a .30-06 caliber rifle at him. The arguing intensified, according to court documents, with Begin telling his son, “I’ll shoot you, you son of a bitch.”
Begin also threatened to shoot his companion and pointed the gun at his son’s girlfriend. The son told police that he had seen Begin shoot the gun previously.
Court documents stated that the next day, Begin ordered everyone to leave the house and again threatened to kill his son and shoot the family dog. Police responded and asked Begin to surrender and leave the gun inside. Officers feared he was attempting to escape or was going to take up an offensive position against them after he fled to the other end of his home with the gun in his hand. They forced open the door and heard Begin working the bolt action of his gun, all the while ordering him to drop it. Officers said they then saw Begin moving his left hand to the rifle and leveling it at waist level toward the officers. They fired and soon found him lying on the ground close to two guns: his rifle – bolt open – and a shotgun. He died the next day.
The court rejected all claims made in the suit.
Some family and community members and those who commented about the incident online have argued that the officers could have used tear gas or just waited for Begin to surrender. The stance differed from one taken by some in 2007, after Neal McEachern caused a 10 hour standoff in Monticello resulting from an argument that led him to stab his brother several times and point a gun at a State Police trooper. Police eventually deployed tear gas and found McEachern, who had a lengthy criminal history and had just been released from jail the day before after an arrest for assault and criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon, dead from accidental combined drug toxicity. Some complained that the standoff went on too long and was a waste of taxpayer dollars. Others said that if police had stormed the house earlier, McEachern might have received medical treatment.
There is no easy answer. There is no perfect solution to make everyone happy, to keep everyone safe.
Whether because of anger or intoxicants or mental health issues, some can’t grasp the reality of the seriousness of pointing a weapon at police or threatening to harm others. In The County, an officer’s request for backup can’t always be answered in a few minutes.
They have to rely on their training and make split second decisions at times when every choice is going to hurt.
One can only imagine how harsh that reality must be.