Shooting inquiry not yet complete

Posted Nov. 19, 2010, at 11:25 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 11:28 a.m.

The investigation into the shooting death of retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. James Popkowski near the Togus VA Medical Center campus in Augusta on July 8 will not be resolved until December, Attorney General Janet T. Mills said in a brief statement Friday.

“The police-involved use of deadly force at Togus was a terrible tragedy with a high level of emotions involved. I expect to issue a report about the matter in December,” Mills wrote.

Mills could not be reached for comment, and her office’s spokeswoman, Kate Simmons, declined to comment further.

The statement came after Mills was interviewed on “The George Hale-Ric Tyler Show,” which is on 101.3-FM and 103.9-FM 6-9 a.m. Monday through Friday. Tyler was on vacation Friday and Hale was not available for comment, station workers said.

It was the first statement Mills had made regarding the shooting since the day after it occurred.

A veteran forced to retire by a rare form of cancer, Popkowski, 37, of Grindstone was hit in the throat by one round as he turned slightly, rifle in hand, toward two officers during a confrontation that followed by as many as 45 minutes reports of a shot or shots striking the hospital, officials have said.

One witness, U.S. Navy veteran Ray Richardson, said he was in a parking lot at Togus on July 8, walking toward his car, when he heard several loud popping and whistling sounds. He and another man, a VA employee, ducked as soon as they recognized the sound of bullets, he said, adding that he heard what sounded like bullets hitting the building behind him.

Sometime later, witnesses reported that several shots, as many as a dozen, were fired at Popkowski, who suffered from depression caused by his illness or medications. In the hours before he went to the VA, where he had been a patient, Popkowski put a sign in his yard indicating he believed doctors were killing him by denying him stem cell medicine, neighbors have said.

Paul Stevens of Belgrade, who claimed to have witnessed the shooting of Popkowski and recorded it with his cell phone camera, said “there was nothing in his demeanor that showed aggression whatsoever.”

Maine State Police, who are assisting the Attorney General’s Office with the investigation, collected a copy of the video from Stevens’ attorney, Pam Ames.

The officers who shot at Popkowski, Department of Veterans Affairs police Officer Thomas Park and Maine Warden Service Sgt. Ron Dunham, have been back at work since mid-October. Park is on desk duty and Dunham on full duty. Game Warden Joey Lefebvre, who was at the scene but did not fire his weapon, is also back on the job, officials have said.

The wardens and Park had been on paid administrative leave, per standard procedure.

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