December 12, 2012

Pulling trigger sparks upheaval in life, emotions of Maine officer

The cop who shot a knife-wielding man in a wheelchair says the emotional scars last a long time.

By David Hench
Staff Writer

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Officer Shawn O’Leary, now a captain with the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, shot and killed a man in 1997 while serving with the Brunswick Police Department. On having to shoot someone, he says: “You don’t want it to happen. It is a pretty hard thing to go through.”

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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At the time, Brunswick officers did not carry Tasers.

A couple of years after the shooting, O’Leary had to respond to the same High Street apartment for a theft complaint.

“That was really creepy. Everything came back,” he said. “I could just smell what was happening. It just brought me right back.”

In December 2007, O’Leary again found himself poised to use deadly force. A man had been chasing his wife with a butcher knife, and when police arrived, he turned on the four officers.

Three of them had their guns out, including O’Leary, who had a rifle. One had a Taser.

“I knew where my backdrop was. I had mentally drawn a line in the sand, like we all do, where we’re going to pull the trigger,” O’Leary said. “I had started to combat-breathe so I could accurately shoot my rifle. I remember saying to myself, 'Here we go again.’”

A fraction of a second before the man crossed the imaginary line, at which point O’Leary was going to fire, he heard the distinctive pop of the Taser and watched the man crumple.

“The next day the headline was 'Taser saves man,’ which was definitely the truth,” he said.

O’Leary now heads up Cumberland County’s training and support services division, and his experience gives him credibility.

The training he oversees includes regular sessions at a firing range, where officers demonstrate enough accuracy with a gun to meet state standards for law enforcement certification, able to protect themselves or someone else by shooting a suspect.

O’Leary recalled that a few days after the Weymouth shooting, he received a phone call from a Bangor officer who had fatally shot someone earlier in the year.

“He said, 'These are the things to expect, and you are not crazy,’” O’Leary remembered.

Now O’Leary is one of those officers who makes such a call, one of the few in Maine who understand what can happen after the trigger is pulled.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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