The Maine Attorney General’s Office on Wednesday released the 911 transcript of the conversations that took place between an emergency dispatcher and the wife of Stephen McKenney minutes before the Windham man was shot and killed outside his home by a sheriff’s deputy in April.
MaineToday Media, Inc., which owns the Portland Press Herald, filed a Freedom of Access civil action earlier this year requesting that authorities release the transcript as well as cruiser cam videos and audio that might have recorded the shooting.
Superior Court Justice Thomas D. Warren agreed in part with the newspaper in his Aug. 5 decision giving it access to the 911 records, but he also gave the state 21 days to appeal.
Attorney General Janet Mills decided not to appeal Warren’s ruling and Mills made the 911 transcript available to the newspaper’s attorney, Sigmund D. Schutz, on Wednesday.
The incident on April 12 began when Vicki McKenney called the Cumberland County Regional Communications Center at 6:14 a.m. to report that her husband, 66-year-old Stephen McKenney, was threatening suicide. The couple lived at 2 Searsport Way in Windham.
Police officers arrived and were able to get her out of the home. Minutes later, McKenney walked out of his garage armed with a handgun, police said. McKenney was ordered to drop the weapon. When he failed to comply, Cumberland County Sheriff Office deputy Nicholas Mangino fired two shots. One of the shots hit McKenney in the head, killing the retired school bus driver in his driveway.
The police account has been disputed by McKenney’s wife, who told her attorney, Daniel Lilley, that her husband had his hands by his sides and was not holding a gun. At the time, she was sitting in a police cruiser about 75 yards from where her husband was shot.
In the 911 transcript, Vicki McKenney calls the Cumberland County Regional Dispatch Center and says that she would “like to have some help down here for my husband. He is kind of threatening suicide.”
She then goes on to have a series of exchanges with the dispatcher in which she pleads for someone to send help to her home. Her husband can be heard in the background ordering her on several occasions to put the phone down.
“Does he have dementia or anything?” the dispatcher asks.
“No. No. He’s had chronic low back pain for seven months. Nobody’s helped him and it’s really affected him mentally,” Vicki McKenney replies before directing her attention to her husband. “Steve, we will get help for you, honey. No, honey. We will get help. Please get somebody here.”
In the minutes that follow, Vicki McKenney tries to convince her husband to return to bed and lay down.
“Is he being aggressive in the background there?” the dispatcher asks at one point. Vicki McKenney replies that he is.
“Did he say how he wants to harm himself?” the dispatcher asks.
“Um, yeah” she replies. “Gun, shoot.”
The dispatcher then asks whether McKenney is carrying a gun and his wife says that he owns guns, but does not have one in his possession.
“Where is it (the gun)?” the dispatcher asks.
“No, we have a house full of them,” she replies, adding that the weapons are not locked up.
As the conversation begins to wind down, the dispatcher asks Vicki McKenney if she thinks her husband “is going to be an issue for my officers?”
Vicki McKenney answers, “No.”
Justice Warren in his decision found that the release of the 911 calls would not interfere with the attorney general’s investigation into the use of police force and that it would not violate Vicki McKenney’s privacy.
“The court concludes that the public interest in evaluating the use of deadly force incidents by law enforcement officers outweighs the McKenneys’ personal privacy interests,” Warren wrote in his decision. “The E-911 call along with the circumstances that existed once officers arrived at 2 Searsport Way, formed the basis for the law enforcement response that ultimately resulted in the death of Stephen McKenney. There is significant public interest in evaluating that response.”
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: