AUGUSTA – Police shot and killed an armed Marine Corps veteran from Medway Thursday morning after he allegedly fired shots in the woods near the Togus Veterans Affairs medical complex.

An officer from the Togus Police Department and a sergeant from the Maine Warden Service shot and killed James F. Popkowski, 37, after a confrontation in a wooded area near the federal campus shortly after 9 a.m.

Popkowski — who had been a Marine first lieutenant — had been diagnosed in 2003 with a rare cancer called hepatosplenic gamma-delta T-cell lymphoma. He had been treated with stem cells — a treatment that eventually led to a malady called graft-versus-host disease.

Togus spokesman James Doherty confirmed Popkowski had received health care at the VA. But Doherty said he was barred by confidentiality protections from giving the dates or reasons for the treatment.

Togus police Officer Thomas Park and Maine Warden Service Sgt. Ron Dunham — the officers involved in the shooting, according to a news release from the Office of the Maine Attorney General — were placed on paid administrative leave pending a state investigation.

Another Warden Service member, Joey Lefebvre, witnessed the confrontation but wasn’t involved in the shooting. He also was placed on paid leave.

There were no other injuries. An autopsy on Popkowski’s body is scheduled for today.

Park became involved in the confrontation after investigating a report of shots fired near the Togus facility.

Doherty said employees of the veterans’ hospital reported hearing gunshots in the woods while on a break shortly after 9 a.m. The facility went into lockdown soon afterward.

“All the patients and all the staff are fine,” Doherty said.

Attorney General Janet Mills said Popkowski was firing shots in the wooded area near Togus.

“We believe (the shots) were near the facility. There’s no evidence that he was shooting randomly in the woods,” Mills said. “It’s also consistent with our information that he was carrying (the weapon) in a threatening manner.”

Mills said she did not know whether Popkowski fired at officers when they arrived on scene.

As is required in all cases where law enforcement officers use deadly force, the Attorney General’s Office will investigate, and Mills will ultimately have to determine whether the shooting was justified.

It’s unclear if the shooting took place on private or federal property. Mills said the area is not a hunting area, but neighbors said they frequently see hunters and people riding all-terrain vehicles on the property. The area near the shooting is posted with signs that say: “U.S. Property. No Trespassing.”

Popkowski’s vehicle, a green Toyota Tacoma pickup with veterans’ license plates, was parked on federal property near a water pumping station that borders a privately owned wooded area along Route 17.

That area is about an eighth of a mile west of the main Togus entrance on Route 17, also known as Eastern Avenue. The road — a major state highway linking the capital to the midcoast — was closed for a time during the incident.

Police removed two dogs from Popkowski’s pickup after police from multiple agencies descended on the scene. The dogs, both malamutes, seemed to be in good health.

Glenwood Shaw, who lives on Eastern Avenue across from the scene of the shooting, said he’d seen the Tacoma pickup parked near the pumping station before.

Shaw said he saw it parked there early Thursday morning when he went out to pick up his newspaper.

“Being a veteran, I thought maybe I should take him out for a cup of coffee,” Shaw said.

A few hours later, Shaw and his nephew, Paul Stevens, of Belgrade, witnessed the officers shooting into the woods at Popkowski.

“It’s a sad thing,” Shaw said.

Stevens said he saw the officers ask Popkowski to drop his weapon. A few moments later, Stevens said, there was a series of shots. He said one of the bullets appeared to hit Popkowski in the neck or head.

Mills said the officers involved in the shooting spent much of their afternoon “being debriefed and trying to get their wits about them.”

“It’s not an easy thing,” she said.

Dunham has been a Maine Warden Service member since 1997, according to a news release from that agency. Lefebvre has worked for the service since 1995.

 

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Mechele Cooper contributed to this report, and information from the Associated Press was included in this report.