The unusual number of police shootings have left residents in the small town of Mexico shaken by the violence.
In this screenshot of body camera footage obtained by the Bangor Daily News Rumford police officer Brad Gallant points a gun and a Taser at Brandon Dearborn in Mexico on Aug. 31, 2022. Credit: Courtesy of the Maine attorney general's office

Daniel Tibbetts doesn’t remember much of what happened after a police officer shot him outside his apartment in the Oxford County town of Mexico on the night of Oct. 13 last year.

The 22-year-old had just had an argument with his girlfriend, and he set out to kill himself, Tibbetts recounted recently. He has struggled with mental illness most of his life, because he lost his dad as a 4-year-old, Tibbetts said. His mother died in 2017, compounding his mental health struggles. 

After the argument, he grabbed a machete and stepped outside to start slashing his wrists, Tibbetts said. 

Moments later, he heard yelling from behind him, but he couldn’t make out what was being said. Then he felt what he thought were paintballs hitting his face, stomach and right leg. He fell to the ground.

He looked down at his stomach and leg and saw blood. A Mexico police officer had shot him three times

Tibbetts’ case marked the third police shooting since October 2021 in Mexico, an unusual number for a small town of roughly 2,700 people, where residents have been rattled by the violence.

“To have three shooting incidents in a row is absolutely concerning,” said one resident who spoke on the condition of anonymity over fear of potential backlash from police. “It has definitely made me question my safety and the safety of my family, where we live.”

The relatively small numbers alone make it impossible to draw a statistical conclusion about the shootings, but they have raised questions about what happened. So far, the community has not received answers due to a long review period by state investigators, underscoring challenges in understanding how police perform their jobs even when they shoot someone. 

“It is interesting that a town that has less than 3,000 people has had three incidents in the last year,” said Brian Pitman, a University of Maine sociologist who focuses on criminology. “That is just, anecdotally, a lot. Something seems off about that for sure.”

Nestled into the hills that overlook Rumford and the nearby Nine Dragons Mill, Mexico is largely a bedroom community, with a median household income of about $31,000, less than half the statewide average. 

In 2021, the Mexico Police Department reported that it handled 247 cases that were mostly nonviolent property crimes, such as vandalism and larceny, according to the Maine State Police. Thomas Tellier was charged with murder on Aug. 7 in the town’s most recent homicide case after police said he shot and killed his stepson, Nicholas Trynor.

Mexico has been the site of five police shootings dating back to 1995, tying it with the much larger population centers of Augusta and Auburn. Only Portland, Lewiston and Bangor — Maine’s largest cities — have seen police use deadly force more frequently in those 27 years.

Every police shooting prompts a review from the Maine attorney general’s office to determine whether the officer was justified in using deadly force. But the office hasn’t completed reviews for any of the three most recent shootings involving the Mexico Police Department. 

State law also requires that the shootings prompt internal reviews at the department that become public. But if the department has done them, it has not released them. The chief said there were no public documents available to share in response to a BDN request.

Three shootings 

Outside this apartment building on Roxbury Street in Mexico, seen Dec. 22, 2022, Daniel Tibbetts was shot three times by a Mexico police officer. Mexico, a town of about 2,700 people, has been the site of three police shootings since October 2021. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

Tibbetts was shot in October outside his Roxbury Road apartment by Mexico police Officer Dustin Broughton, who responded to a report of a domestic violence disturbance.

Less than two months before, on Aug. 31, Mexico police Lt. Derek MacDonald and Rumford police Officer Bradley Gallant shot Brandon Dearborn about a mile away in the Sun Valley Circle apartment complex. 

Like Tibbetts, Dearborn survived his encounter with the Mexico police.

Almost a year earlier, on Oct. 8, 2021, Matthew Marston, 29, died after Broughton shot him. The circumstances around Marston’s death still aren’t clear, but it is known that Broughton shot him on a stretch of U.S. Route 2 in neighboring Dixfield. However, the Maine medical examiner’s office ultimately determined his death to be a suicide. 

The attorney general’s office hasn’t released basic information about the circumstances that led up to the three shootings because it’s still completing its investigations.  

Because those reviews are pending, another state task force known as the Deadly Force Review Panel hasn’t completed its examination to determine whether police followed best practices. The panel can also suggest changes to police training or rules.

But Broughton and MacDonald have returned to regular duty, Mexico police Chief Roy Hodsdon confirmed. Gallant has also returned to duty for the Rumford police, according to Chief Tony Milligan.

The Bangor Daily News obtained video footage of all three shootings from the attorney general’s office through a public records request. But the footage, from police dashboard and body cameras, has been so significantly cut that they all last less than a minute and almost exclusively show the moment when Broughton and MacDonald fired their guns. 

Local officials are tight-lipped about the shootings. Mexico Town Manager Raquel Welch-Day declined to comment, as did Hodsdon. 

Mexico has been the site of three police shootings since October 2021.
Police cruisers sit outside the Mexico Police Department on Dec. 12, 2022. Between October 2021 and October 2022, the town of about 2,700 people has been the site of three police shootings. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

The chief also denied a BDN public records request for more footage from the three shootings and referred all questions to the attorney general’s office, which also denied a request to release additional footage. 

Rumford police denied a request for additional footage from Gallant’s body camera in the Aug. 31 shooting of Dearborn.

Under Maine law, the attorney general’s office since 1995 has investigated every time an officer used deadly force, and has cleared officers of wrongdoing in each of its 171 shooting cases, finding police reasonably believed their own or others’ lives were in danger. But 21 deadly force investigations remain open, with the oldest dating back to 2018. Those include the three most recent shootings involving the Mexico Police Department. 

In 2021, Maine lawmakers, with support from the attorney general’s office, passed a law requiring that the office complete its deadly force investigations within 180 days, according to Danna Hayes, a spokesperson for Attorney General Aaron Frey. 

The office has recently worked through a “significant backlog” of investigations, Hayes said, but it also has been forced to focus on newer cases to meet the new statutory obligations. 

‘Shoot me dead’

The BDN tried to piece together what happened in each of the last three shootings through interviews, court documents, reviews of available video footage and requests for other public records. But a lot is still unknown.

Dearborn was charged with reckless conduct with a firearm, receiving stolen property and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person after he allegedly stole a handgun from a house close to Sun Valley Circle and pointed it at multiple people, according to a police affidavit. 

The body-worn camera footage the BDN obtained shows two different perspectives of the shooting: one from Mexico police Lt. MacDonald’s camera and the other from Rumford police Officer Gallant.

The footage from Gallant’s camera shows how the officer pointed a handgun and a stun gun at Dearborn and repeatedly told him to drop the gun. 

“Shoot me dead. Shoot me,” Dearborn responded. 

Gallant fired the stun gun, then seconds later began firing his gun, as did MacDonald. 

The Oxford County district attorney’s office declined to comment on the charges against Dearborn and Tibbetts.

Meanwhile, Tibbetts, who was shot in October, was charged with domestic violence criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon and violating his conditions of release from a prior case. 

The attorney general’s office called in the Maine State Police to investigate Tibbetts’ alleged crime after the Mexico police had responded and Broughton had shot the 22-year-old, according to court records.

Maine State Police Detective Benjamin Handzel said in his affidavit that Mexico police were responding to a “domestic disturbance.” The detective interviewed Tibbetts’ girlfriend and another person present, whom Tibbetts said was a former roommate. 

Tibbetts’ girlfriend told Handzel she wasn’t afraid of Tibbetts, and she felt like she needed to call police because he was out of control. 

The former roommate told police that she saw Tibbetts holding a knife to his girlfriend’s throat and threatening her. But the former roommate also told police she had been drinking that night and “did not remember a lot.” 

The dashboard camera footage provided by the attorney general’s office shows three officers approaching Tibbetts’ apartment building shoulder to shoulder in the dark. Within seconds, the officer on the far right fires his weapon, and three shots can be heard. Tibbetts — visible in the distance only as a shadow — drops to his knees, then to the ground. 

Another view of the shooting — from doorbell camera footage obtained by Portland television station CBS 13 that a resident said captured part of the altercation — showed three officers quickly entering the frame, yelling at someone off-camera to drop a machete. Within seconds, three shots rang out. 

Daniel Tibbetts is seen in an undated selfie. Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Tibbetts

For Tibbetts, the irony of the situation stands out when he thinks back on that night: He set out to kill himself, and the police responded with deadly force.  

He’s now living with a relative as he recovers from his injuries. Sudden movements and the sight of anything resembling guns now startle him. Seeing kids playing with Nerf guns, for example, can be difficult.

“That bang or that twinge, sometimes I have to look back and be like, ‘OK, it’s just a toy,’” he said. 

Tibbetts has a scar on his face, he has lost 85 percent of his large intestine and part of a bullet is still lodged in his spine, he said. He can no longer walk properly due to the gunshot wound to his right leg and the bullet fragment in his spine. 

“I can’t even use the bathroom right. I am pretty much dependent on people to get up and down,” Tibbetts said. “This has changed my life.”

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Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News. A graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he worked for Vermont Public Radio, The Burlington Free Press...