A 25-year-old suicidal woman armed with a knife was shot and wounded by a veteran Rumford police officer late Tuesday afternoon, authorities said.
She was hospitalized and reported to be in stable condition late Tuesday night.
The Maine Attorney General’s Office has launched an investigation into the police shooting, and the officer involved, Sgt. Tracey Higley, has been placed on paid administrative leave, as is standard practice.
Brian MacMaster, director of investigations for the attorney general’s office, said Tuesday’s confrontation began around 4:45 p.m. with a call to Rumford police regarding a woman who was threatening suicide.
Officers went to a three-story apartment building at 77 Maine Ave. in downtown Rumford but were unable to locate the woman, identified by MacMaster as Jessica Byrn-Francisco, 25.
“The police officers had to look for her,” MacMaster said Tuesday night.
“They were becoming concerned for her welfare when they could not find her.”
MacMaster said that Higley and another officer located Byrn-Francisco in the backyard of the apartment building.
The woman refused officers’ commands to drop her knife and began to approach the officers, at which point Higley fired his sidearm, Rumford Police Chief Stacy Carter told WGME-TV.
MacMaster said he was told by his field investigators that Higley fired two shots.
The investigator said he did not know what types of wounds Byrn-Francisco suffered.
The other officer did not fire his weapon, MacMaster said.
Carter said Higley is a decorated officer who has served the town for 18 years.
Higley was named police officer of the year for 2012 by the Maine Association of Police. The organization was founded in 1975 and represents more than 1,000 law enforcement members.
Higley has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of investigations by the attorney general’s office and by Rumford police, Carter said.
“This the first officer-involved shooting we have had this year,” said MacMaster, whose office investigated nine police shootings in 2013.
“That is the most we’ve ever had in one year.”
MacMaster said underlying factors in nearly all the confrontations between police and civilians involve mental illness, drug use and alcohol.
By law, his department must investigate any confrontation in which a police officer is forced to use his or her weapon.
Eventually, MacMaster’s office will issue a report concluding whether the officer was justified in using force.
Byrn-Francisco was transported by ambulance to Rumford Hospital.
Carter said authorities were planning to transport her by Lifeflight helicopter to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston at some point.
“The last I heard she was in stable condition,” Carter said late Tuesday night.
Carter said Rumford police have received “numerous calls” in recent weeks related to Bryn-Francisco threatening to kill herself. He said she is single and unemployed.
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