RUMFORD, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Attorney General Janet T. Mills said Tuesday that she has concluded Sergeant Tracey Higley used appropriate force when he shot Jessica Byrn-Francisco on March 18 outside her home. The Attorney General said Sgt. Higley it was reasonable for Sgt. Higley to believe it necessary to use deadly force to protect himself from deadly force. The Attorney General's conclusions are based on an extensive scene investigation, on interviews with numerous individuals, including Ms. Byrn-Francisco, and on a review of all evidence made available from any source.
The Attorney General's report said in the late afternoon of March 18, 2014, Byrn-Francisco, 25, of Rumford called her counselor to report that her ride to a next day counseling appointment had been cancelled. Byrn-Francisco was frustrated and told her counselor that she had consumed all of her anti-anxiety and sleep medication in attempt to kill herself. The report said the counselor kept Byrn-Francisco on the line, called the police, and Officer Brad Gallant responded. Officer Gallant knocked on the door of Byrn-Francisco's apartment but, but received no response. The report said he found the apartment door was locked and Byrn-Francisco ignored his requests to unlock it.
Sgt. Tracey Higley joined Officer Gallant to assist, both being familiar with Byrn-Francisco's prior suicide attempts. The report said they were unable to persuade her to open the door and Sgt. Higley unsuccessfully attempted to summon the landlord. The report said Sgt. Higley was worried Byrn-Francisco was unconscious. Sgt. Higley forced the door open and he and Officer Gallant entered the apartment. They saw about 30 empty prescription medication capsules, said the report. The officers determined the contents of the capsules had been emptied into a glass of water and saw that very little water was left in the glass. The report said Byrn-Francisco was not in the apartment, but the officers noticed an open window at the rear of the apartment.
While the officers were trying to enter the apartment, the counselor called the police again and said she was still talking with Byrn-Francisco. Byrn-Francisco had told her she had left the apartment through tan open window. Byrn-Francisco also told her that she was feeling very weak, tired and was experiencing difficulty breathing, which the counselor relayed to police.
The officers began searching and Sgt. Higley looked near the Rumford Memorial Bridge and requested assistance from a Mexico police officer. The report said the town's ambulance service was also looking for Ms. Byrn-Francisco. Officer Gallant found footprints leading away from the open apartment window into the backyard. At the time, the yard had approximately two feet of accumulated snow.
Officer Gallant followed the footsteps and found Byrn-Francisco sitting on the ground under a deck attached to the residence. She was still talking on the telephone with her counselor, said the report. Officer Gallant tried to talk with Byrn-Francisco, but she told him to leave her alone. Officer Gallant grasped her arm and tried to pull her up from a sitting position, with the intent of taking her into into protective custody. He was unable to do so, so he tried again by clutching her hooded sweatshirt and pulling her up. The report said that once on her feet, Byrn-Francisco displayed a closed folding knife. Then she stepped out from under the deck and opened the knife. Officer Gallant stepped back and accidentally dropped the handcuffs in the snow. The report said ee ordered her to drop the knife, but she ignored the order. He then tried to tase her, but one of the projectiles failed to make contact with her body.
Sgt. Higley had heard Officer Gallant announce that he had found Byrn-Francisco, so he started walking toward the backyard. While en-route, he heard the arcing of Officer Gallant's taser. He entered the backyard and saw Byrn-Francisco with the knife in her right hand. He got closer and shouted at her to drop the knife. Byrn-Francisco turned her attention away from Officer Gallant and toward Sgt. Higley. Officer Gallant used the opportunity to retreat onto a nearby deck, which placed a railing between Byrn-Francisco and him. Byrn-Francisco continued to ignore Sgt. Higley's requests to drop the knife. His attempted to use a taser, but was unsuccesful. He also employed his Taser, but the attempt was likewise unsuccessful.
Byrn-Francisco approached Sgt. Higley with the knife still in her hand. The report said Sgt. Higley drew his pistol and started to walk backwards in the deep snow, but lost his footing several times. He continued with his commands to drop the knife, but she kept advancing toward him. She responded to his commands with expletives, and said "go ahead and shoot me." Sgt. Higley was still walking backwards and came to the edge of an embankment that dropped about six feet. Byrn-Francisco continued to advance and Sgt. Higley said he could help her and that he did not want to have to shoot her. The report said Byrn-Francisco replied "do it," while she kept walking toward him, knife out. Sgt. Higley then fired two shots from his service weapon, a .40 caliber handgun. The report said both shots struck Byrn-Francisco, who fell to the ground with the knife still in her hand. Both officers continued demand she dropped the knife, but then eventually had to disarm her. The report said later investigation determined that Byrn-Francisco had advanced to less than 15 feet from Sgt. Higley when she was shot.
Emergency medical personnel were already on scene when the shooting occurred and they transported her to Rumford Medical Center, and then Central Maine Medical Center. Eight days later, she signed herself out of the hospital. The report said the State Police later charged her with the Class C crime of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon, a case that remains pending in the Oxford County Superior Court.
Detectives from the Office of the Attorney General went investigated the incident.