Maine officer relives decision to pull the trigger 20 years ago
WINSLOW (WGME) -- Almost 20 years later, Winslow Police Chief Shawn O’Leary says he has a vivid memory of November 6, 1997.
“It was it was an event that I always knew could potentially happen,” O’Leary said. “I never wished it because I got into this line of work to help people and to do service to my community, but I always knew it may happen.”
O’Leary was working as a Brunswick Police Officer. He and his partner responded to a domestic dispute involving 55-year-old Richard Weymouth. He had fallen from his wheelchair and there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest.
“At one point when we were confirming there was a warrant for Richard Weymouth he took out an 8 inch butcher knife from a Shop ’n Save bag,” O’Leary said. “One of the other occupants saw the knife and started yelling and screaming.”
O’Leary said his training kicked in. He and his partner drew their weapons and retreated as much as they could. They gave Weymouth orders to drop the weapon. Instead, Weymouth started stabbing himself with the knife.
“You don’t believe it’s happening,” O’Leary said. “You’re kind of questioning what you’re seeing and you’re checking yourself and you’re checking yourself and you’re saying, ‘Is that really a knife? Is that person really stabbing himself in the stomach? Isn’t he going to stop?’”
O’Leary’s partner sprayed Weymouth with pepper spray twice. It had no effect. Weymouth turned towards O’Leary and lunged at him with the knife. O’Leary says that’s when everything started to slow down.
“I remember the shell casings coming out slow, and I remember his shirt moving slightly where the rounds were striking him.”
O’Leary shot Weymouth twice in the chest, which is the area of the body officers are trained to shoot at. He said the public sometimes doesn’t understand why they do that.
“We are trained that if you’re going to shoot, shoot at the biggest part of the body so you’re not going to miss,” O’Leary said. “And we don’t shoot to kill. A lot of people think we shoot to kill, but in reality, truly we shoot to stop the threat and we aim at the chest because it is the biggest part and we need not to miss.”
Weymouth died at the scene. Two weeks later the attorney general ruled O’Leary legally justified in the shooting. O’Leary said he’s never questioned the decision he made, but the effects have stayed with him.
“You feel bad,” O’Leary said. “I always say the worst person in the world, the most violent criminal; they still have somebody out there that loves them or has feelings for them and you really take it for that.”
Now, every time a Maine officer is involved in a deadly shooting. O’Leary gives them a call. He says the support for an officer after a shooting is crucial.
“I’ve talked to several officers that have been involved in shootings,” O’Leary said. “If you do your checking you’ll notice high rates of suicide after high rates of people just quitting the job, divorce, substance abuse... “You go through all these emotions and it’s just brutal and I go honestly it’s completely normal so you’re not losing your mind.”