“During this hostage rescue assault, the entry team took an enormous amount of risk on themselves, and were faced with numerous challenges, including a barricaded door, the likelihood of a human shield, and an aggressive and armed subject,” said Maine State Police Col. John Cote.
On October 21, 2020, a Maine State Police tactical team stood outside an apartment door inside a residential facility on Rankin Street, in Rockland, enduring violent verbal threats that penetrated through the door from the suspect within.
The suspect claimed he had a firearm, later identified as a .40 caliber gun, according to a police affidavit that was filed prior to the suspect’s arraignment. At one point, he vowed death to his hostage, who happened to be his mother, by slitting her throat if any law enforcement agent entered the apartment. He also vowed death against the agents themselves, said Cote.
Nine months later, on July 28, 2021, Maine State Police awarded the tactical team with the 2020 MSP award for Bravery during a ceremony at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, in Vassalboro. The multi-award ceremony took place inside, with an accompanying color guard and bagpipes. Approximately 60 citizens were in attendance, along with those in uniform. Other award recognitions included Trooper of the Year, Legendary Trooper, Wounds Received, Colonel’s Award, and Leadership Award.
“It’s not uncommon – every day – for the command staff to end up in the hallway over there at 45 Commerce [Maine State Police office building in Augusta] talking about something that’s going on,” said Maine State Police Commissioner Michael Sauschuck.
As time marches by, some of those stories stay with them. The tactical team’s involvement with the Rockland incident is one of those tales.
Inside the apartment, a woman was chained at her hands and feet, said Cote. Her adult son not only threatened violence against her and law enforcement, but also threatened to use her as a human shield to anyone who broached the barricaded doorway. According to the police affidavit, the suspect posted to Facebook that he expected to end up in jail or dead.
As entry team members stood vigilant at the door, mere feet from the suspect within, other tactical members moved swiftly along the exterior hallway, entering neighboring apartments and assisting with evacuation of residents with mobility issues.
For over an hour, the team listened to the threats. As the hour passed, the threats didn’t fade; instead, they escalated. The time for tactical intervention grew closer. Ultimately, the fear of bodily harm to the hostage became imminent.
“It certainly is an increased stress level,” said Tactical Team Commander Greg Roy after the ceremony. “The operators on the team fall back on their training and experience, and use that stress in a positive way.”
Team members activated an explosive breaching charge against the door, commencing a hostage rescue entry. Inside the apartment, they encountered the suspect and, according to Cote, observed him using his mother as a human shield.
The suspect had been surprised by the team’s entry sudden entry. His hands happened to be free at the time, and a swift arrest followed, using non-deadly force. His mother was then freed from the chains and put into the care of emergency medical professionals for the minor injuries allegedly inflicted by her son.
Following arrest, he was charged with kidnapping, domestic violence assault, and creating a police standoff. His case is still pending as of July 28, 2021.
“We have a reputation of making sure that if you see a ribbon or award on a trooper, it signifies something very significant,” said Cote. “We don’t want these awards to be diluted. There are times when people have done great work. And I can testify that our troopers, day in and day out, do all the small things that continue to set us apart and make an impact on our communities. But there are times when recognition at the local level…really kind of addresses what happens and gives the recognition that’s appropriate. ….Know that it is truly worth recognizing. When they wear these ribbons, it shows their commitment, their determination, and the extra length that they went to.”
Maine’s State Police tactical team is made up of members from all over the state. Each year, the team responds to several requests for intervention. Each member drives from wherever he is at that time. One member lives in Aroostook County. Two others live in Oxford and York counties. When the request comes in, they get in their vehicles and start driving. If they incident ends while they are on the road, they turn around and go home. The timing of the Rockland incident was a bit unusual, according to Roy. It occurred just after a training day in Central Maine. The team members with long distances to drive happened to be staying in the Augusta area.
“Typically, we respond to several calls a year,” said Roy. “And a lot of them go quietly, which is how we like all of them to go. But this just happened to be one of those cases that stood out to me. The guys on the team doing an extraordinary job of bringing a resolution to this case safely.”
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