June 19, 2018
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Officer on desk duty since Togus shooting

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

One of two officers who shot at retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. James Popkowski near the Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta in early July has been working in an administrative capacity for several weeks, Veterans Affairs spokesman James Doherty said Thursday.

VA police Officer Thomas Park has not been returned to duty or gone out on patrol, his typical assignment, but has done desk duty at the hospital’s police station, Doherty said.

Doherty described that as standard procedure when an officer awaits results of an investigation of possible criminal or police personnel violations and is fit to return to duty. Park had been placed on paid administrative leave in connection with Popkowski’s death on July 8.

Doherty declined to say for exactly how long the administrative leave lasted but said that Park had been on desk duty “probably for several weeks or months.”

Popkowski, 37, of Grindstone had been shot in the throat as he turned, rifle in hand, slightly toward Park and Maine Warden Service Sgt. Ron Dunham during a confrontation that followed by as many as 45 minutes reports of a shot or shots hitting the hospital building, officials have said.

A third officer, Maine Game Warden Joey Lefebvre, was at the scene but did not fire his weapon. He has returned to duty, Deborah Turcotte, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said in an e-mail Thursday.

The wardens had been placed on paid administrative leave, per standard procedure, immediately after the incident.

A VA patient honorably discharged because of a rare form of cancer, Popkowski died of a single bullet wound to the neck, the state medical examiner’s office has ruled. The medical examiner’s office has not said how many bullets struck him.

Witnesses reported that several rounds, as many as a dozen, were fired at Popkowski as he turned and that Lefebvre had been running to the scene, or had just arrived, when the shots were fired.

Warden service officials said Wednesday that Dunham had been returned to active duty based on the service’s “internal review of the facts.”

Nicole Sacre, spokeswoman for the Maine Attorney General’s Office, which is investigating the shooting, said that returning Dunham to active duty was the warden service’s decision, not the attorney general’s.

“That is their decision whether they suspend a person or let him back on duty,” Sacre said Wednesday, referring to officials at the Maine Warden Service. “It has nothing to do with us or our investigation. The investigation is still pending and nobody’s been cleared.”

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