James Rafferty Credit: Portsmouth PD photo courtesy of Portsmouth Herald

PORTSMOUTH, New Hampshire — City police officers were twice recently dispatched to dangerous situations involving guns and both times “prevented a deadly-force condition,” said Police Chief Robert Merner.

“I think these officers need to be commended,” Merner said. “There comes a time for us to put our public on notice that there are things going on other than speeding cars.”

Merner said the first recent call occurred Dec. 23, when officer Steve Blanding was on his way to work in a cruiser he’s issued to take home because he’s a K-9 officer. Blanding wasn’t scheduled to start work for another half hour, but was first on scene at Beechstone Apartments after hearing a dispatcher report a 911 call about a woman being threatened at gunpoint, the chief said.

Police Lt. Mike Maloney said Blanding was on scene in less than a minute and when he pulled into the apartment complex, a man started walking toward him, reached into his waistband and pulled out a pistol. Still the only officer at the scene, Blanding had been reaching for his rifle, but instead pulled his police pistol, pointed it at the approaching armed man and gave him instructions to drop what was later determined to be a fully-loaded 9mm semiautomatic Smith and Wesson, Maloney said.

“Thankfully, he did so immediately,” said Maloney, who explained Blanding held the man on the ground until other officers arrived. The man, James Rafferty, 56, of 20 Beechstone Apt. 4, is now charged with felony counts of criminal threatening, reckless conduct and criminal restraint.

Merner said Rafferty threatened the woman, a “random victim,” at gunpoint. “She was minding her own business in a parking lot,” the chief said.

Under those circumstances, according to Merner, police use of deadly force would have been justified. But because of Blanding’s “good training and instincts,” the chief said, tragedy was averted.

A second gun call, that could have also ended with the use of deadly force, came New Year’s Eve, Maloney said. Hampton police had radioed a be-on-the-lookout alert for a 21-year-old woman threatening to kill herself, was armed and her phone was pinged in Portsmouth. The woman repeatedly posted on social media that she was at different Portsmouth locations, but when police would get there, she was gone, police said.

“They were chasing ghosts,” said Maloney, who described those calls as lasting more than an hour.

Portsmouth officers had her name and a description of her vehicle and shortly after midnight, when the woman said she was going to shoot herself, officer Andrew Bridges saw her car traveling southbound on the Route 1 Bypass, Maloney said. Bridges followed it into the Planet Fitness parking lot, the woman saw the cruiser and drove onto the bypass northbound at speeds up to 70 mph, according to police.

“She was certainly a danger to herself and others,” Maloney said.

The woman then suddenly “slams on her brakes” near a car dealership, did not initially obey commands to step out of her car and when she did, a handgun that was on her lap fell onto the pavement, Maloney said. Officers seized the pistol, later determined to have an empty clip and they found a box of ammunition and a loaded clip inside her car, Maloney said.

The woman told police she had pulled the trigger three times but was unable to fire the pistol, according to police. The chief said she lawfully bought the gun two days earlier with the purpose of killing herself.

The police chief said Bridges and the night’s shift commander, Lt. David Colby, are to be commended for the proper handling of that incident that ended without anyone being hurt or killed.

“This comes down to her and her family now,” Merner said. “Because of the officers, she can get the help she needs.”

“This is another gun-related incident when officers did the right thing by not running at the car,” Maloney said. “These were two very close calls for the officers.”

Maloney said ongoing training made the difference and the chief said the officers “relied on their training” in both instances.

“You can never train enough,” Maloney said. “It’s ongoing and it’s consistent. In order to keep skills sharp, the only way is to train and train and train.”

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