PORTLAND, Maine — An off-duty Cumberland County sheriff’s deputy subdued an apparently suicidal man wielding a gun on Forest Avenue on Tuesday morning.
Deputy Richard Kimball happened onto the situation because I-295 ramp construction had forced him to take a different route home than usual after his overnight shift at the jail.
Police said they believe the man, a 64-year-old Portland resident, was in the middle of morning commuter traffic in the area near 880 Forest Ave. brandishing a handgun in part to ultimately commit “suicide by cop.”
Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said during a Wednesday afternoon press conference that the suspect told a neighbor and taxi driver he intended to commit suicide that day before heading into the busy street with a silver firearm. The situation was reported to police just after 7 a.m. Tuesday, Sauschuck said.
“He was saying, ‘shoot me, shoot me,’” recalled Portland police Officer Daniel Rose, who was the first from the city department to arrive on scene.
Among the closest vehicles on Forest Avenue to the man, who was taken to Maine Medical Center after the incident and is not being identified by police unless their investigation determines criminal charges are necessary, was Kimball’s personal car.
“I went home a way that I normally never go,” said Kimball at Wednesday afternoon’s press conference.
Kimball said he rolled down the window and began talking to the man, who immediately wanted to know if the deputy, still in uniform, was carrying a gun.
“I told him I didn’t, that I was just a security guard, and that seemed to de-escalate the situation,” recalled Kimball, who said he convinced the man to move to the side of the road.
When Rose arrived in his police cruiser, the man allegedly took his gun back out of his pocket and showed it, police say, in an effort to convince one of the law enforcement officers to shoot him.
“I think he was displaying himself to be shot,” said Kimball.
Kimball said the man dropped the gun onto the sidewalk and while the man was reaching down to pick it up, the deputy, who was behind his now-parked car about eight feet away, made his move. Kimball charged the man and tackled him before he was able to reach his gun.
Kimball said Wednesday he thought the man lost his handle of the gun out of nerves, not because he was putting it down in compliance with police orders at the time.
“When I see this scene, read this report and watch that video [from the nearby police cruiser], it’s heroic,” said Sauschuck, who called the press conference in part to highlight the “shimmering example” of interagency cooperation. “It’s a very tense situation. This gentleman was in traffic with a handgun. Anything can happen.”
Rose agreed, saying the officers were concerned about what the man would do if he became desperate to draw police fire. Kimball said there was a schoolbus just a few vehicles behind his in the morning traffic.
“It was really close to a bad outcome,” Rose said.