Farmington police say man shot dead confronted officer with a knife

FARMINGTON — The family of a man shot to death by a policeman Saturday morning said he was an Army Ranger suffering from severe combat stress from a major battle in Afghanistan about six years ago.

Submitted photo

Justin Crowley-Smilek

Ann Bryant, Sun Journal

A 28-year-old Farmington man was shot to death by a Farmington Police officer outside of the Farmington Town Office complex Saturday. Police were investigating the shooting but Police Chief Jack Peck said Justin Crowley-Smilek, the man shot, had come to the police station and was threatening an officer with a knife before he was shot.

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

During a press conference early Saturday afternoon on the fatal police shooting near the Farmington police, fire and municipal building in the background, Farmington police Chief Jack Peck said Justin Crowley-Smilek, 28, of Farmington, called for help on a phone outside the building. When an officer came out to see him, Peck said Crowley-Smilek suddenly pulled his hand holding a large knife out of his pocket and attacked the officer who shot him to death.

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

Former Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, behind the van antenna, speaks with investigators early Saturday afternoon where a Farmington man, whom police say attacked a Farmington police officer with a large knife, was shot to death. The officer wasn't injured.

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

Former Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, right, greets police union officials who arrived early Saturday afternoon during the investigation into the Saturday morning fatal shooting of a Farmington man outside the municipal building on Route 2 by a Farmington police officer.

Ann Bryant, Sun Journal

Police shot Justin Crowley-Smilek, 28, of Farmington in front of the police station in Farmington.

Farmington police Chief Jack Peck said Justin Crowley-Smilek, 28, of Farmington, initially sought help from an officer inside the police station off Route 2.

When an officer came outside the police station to assist him, Peck said Crowley-Smilek pulled a large knife from his pocket, raised it and moved aggressively toward the officer, who shot and killed him.

Michael Smilek said he thinks his son Justin was trying to get help by acting homicidal toward the officer. So, too, did Justin's mother, Ruth Crowley of Portland, Ore.

They said their son was bipolar and suffered from delusions because he was not taking his medication.

“He needed help and we couldn't get him into a hospital, because you can't (involuntarily commit an adult) unless they're suicidal or homicidal,” Crowley said.

Peck said Crowley-Smilek was killed instantly at 11 a.m. in the municipal building parking lot.

An autopsy is scheduled for Monday, Brenda Kielty, spokeswoman for Attorney General William Schneider, said early Saturday evening.

Peck declined to name the officer involved in the shooting, but Kielty said the officer was Ryan Rosie.

Peck said that as a matter of policy, the officer will be on administrative leave pending the investigation.

“Physically, he's OK, but emotionally, he's shaken,” Peck said of Rosie.

Peck said police believe Crowley-Smilek walked to the police station. He used a phone outside the building that rings into the Franklin County Sheriff's Department dispatching station.

“He called in, requesting to see an officer,” Peck said.

Rosie, one of two on duty inside the station, went outside to assist him. A short conversation ensued, during which Crowley-Smilek had his hands in his pockets, the chief said.

Peck said the officer had no clue when he walked out the door what he was walking into and, as a result, there wasn't any call for backup.

“It all happened in a matter of seconds, really," Peck said.

He said he didn't know how many shots were fired, but eyewitness Leon Heckbert, who was working at his garage, Pro Service, across the street, said he heard four gunshots.

“I heard a 'pow,' and then three quick shots right after that,” Heckbert said.

“I ran over there to see what was going on and I just saw that guy laying there on the ground,” he said. “I just saw the officer pointing the gun down at the suspect.”

Peck said the shooting was being investigated by the Maine Attorney General's office, Maine State Police, the local district attorney's office and the Medical Examiner's Office.

Police did not know what provoked the attack, Peck said.

“We do know that he has had mental health issues in the past, but obviously, it is under investigation,” the chief said.

Peck said Crowley-Smilek had had frequent encounters with police. “We've had 33 known contacts with him over the years."

Justin's father and stepmother, Lorna Smilek of Farmington, and his mother Ruth Crowley all said Saturday evening that Justin was suffering from severe combat stress.

They said he served his country five or six years ago as an Army Ranger doing special operations in Afghanistan.

“He suffered (post-traumatic stress disorder) 100 percent due to being in a major battle,” Lorna Smilek said of Justin, who was a mortar man.

“Firing mortars will shake your head up tremendously,” said Michael Smilek, who also served in the military.

“During the battle, for 20 to 48 hours all he did was shoot and kill people and he just lost it,” Lorna Smilek said. “He never came back as the same person he was when he went in.”

“The atrocities he told me he saw and took part in made him crack,” Michael Smilek said. “He told me his special ops unit would go into villages and wipe out the village, and then the Army would move in, and he said he remembers all the children dying.”

Additionally, the Smileks said Justin fell 35 feet out of a helicopter while in Afghanistan and injured his back and head.

As a result of the PTSD, Justin was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, his father said.

“When he came home, initially my wife and I had to fight the system to get him the help he needed, because of their attitude toward service persons who were coming back from the war and not getting the care they needed to get,” Michael Smilek said. “I believe our nation owes it to our service persons to care about them.”

Before Justin followed in his father's and grandfather's military service footsteps and joined the Army to become a Ranger, “he was a very sensitive, sweet person,” Michael Smilek said.

“He was really sweet and funny and he had a wonderful sense of humor,” Lorna Smilek said.

“He was a good person and I always told him he was heart-centered, and he had no business going into the Army,” Ruth Crowley said. “He had the most beautiful heart. That's who he was to me.”

However, Michael Smilek said his son joined to serve his country and to get an education. His goal was to become a police officer following discharge, Crowley said.

“When he came back from Afghanistan, he began to unravel,” Crowley said.

Michael Smilek said they managed to get Justin a service dog, Ranger, a German shepherd that Justin loved dearly. He also began going to the Veterans Administration Clinic at Togus.

“He was a lonely, lonely man, but he really tried hard to be a good person and he just didn't know how with a mental illness,” Lorna Smilek said. “I know he never intended to kill a police officer, and I feel very bad for that officer.”

“I forgive the officer involved and I'm praying for him, because he's probably in a lot of pain,” Michael Smilek said.

However, both he and Crowley said they don't believe deadly force should have been used.

“Justin was just a very troubled person in a lot of pain from his time overseas, but that's no reason to shoot him,” Michael Smilek said. “I was in the military and if a person comes at you with a knife, I could disarm him or Mace him or shoot him in the kneecap and disable him.”

“I don't believe Justin was doing suicide by police,” he said. “I know he believed suicide is a mortal sin. I just can't make sense of this.”

Michael Smilek said his son had been off his medication and was delusional. He said the VA's office refused to provide him with medication when they learned he was taking medicinal marijuana for his back pain.

“Because medicinal marijuana is illegal, the VA said they couldn't treat him anymore,” Michael Smilek said.

Crowley-Smilek, who was free on bail from an assault charge in February, went before a judge in Farmington on Friday, Michael Smilek said.

He was accused of beating a man over the head with a flashlight in a parking lot in Farmington and cultivating marijuana, he said.

The judge ordered what the family had been fighting for for so many years: a full psychological evaluation.

“So it was like everybody who knows Justin should have known this, because it was brought up in court that he needs help,” Michael Smilek said. “This is just a needless, senseless loss.”

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Chris Blake's picture

The real issue

It is a horrible situation that is ruining several lives. I feel for the dead man, the police officer, and their families tonight. This discussion needs to get back to a very real grounding in ways to make sure it never has to happen to anyone ever again, and move away from unrealistic fantasies about whether the officer should have killed the man.

End the wars and bring our men home. Heal them of their wounds. Create an America where attempted or successful Death by Cop is not their only recourse for peace.

ANTHONY NAZAR's picture

Justin and Officer Rosie are both victims

But assigning blame at this point is senseless. Vets don't get the help they deserve and need and police officers must make decisions in a nano-second that would freeze the brain of most of us. Sadly - I'm predicting that Officer Rosie will suffer from PTSD just as Justin did - and for the same reason. Killing another human being is not a rational act - our brains are not wired to accept the unacceptable.

I'm so terribly sorry for what happened to both men.

Jeanne Boelsma's picture

Casualty of unnecessary war

The police officer didn't kill this man, the military did. He was sent off to a war we have no business being in, and exposed to horrific experiences no human should have to endure. The military recruiters come into the schools and entice our children with promises of free education, adventure and all sorts of other things. They fail to mention that they may lose their life, limbs or sanity in the process. Once the are in and see the reality of what they signed up for, there is no way out. I feel for this man and his family, and urge our young people to take a good hard look at what they are signing up for before joining the military.

KERT BLODGETT's picture

Sorry Jeanne

Have you ever been a recruiter? I am leaning towards no. I am just wondering where you get your information from. I was one for almost 4 years and if you don't think War subject came up in the conversation with the applicant/parent/teacher/friend/cousin/etc.... then sorry somebody lied to you. They fail to mention that they may lose their life, limbs or sanity in the process. HELLO we are in War we don't play chess or board games. Stop being a military hater and respect the Men and Women who sacrifice there lives for people like you. I forgot the people you are bashing are the one's that gave you the right to speak your mind. I am sorry.

Jeanne Boelsma's picture

I do respect our soldiers

Kert, I do respect the people in our military. I am not bashing them in any way. But our government sends our kids off to fight other people's wars that are in no way threatening our freedom or liberty. Our military should be defending our country and we should let other countries sort out their own problems. Many of these soldiers come back and can't function in society and their lives are ruined. They are the uncounted casualties of war. I feel for them and for their families.

KERT BLODGETT's picture

That Better

I do agree with you there, more help is needed for veteran's. Just please don't blame Recruiter's or Service Men and Women. It not there fault. It the system that needs to be fixed. I thank you for your clarification on your comment.

Roger Moulton's picture

3 shots too many

While I don't want to paint the officer as a terrible person as I've never been in his shoes and it's not like he had time to think things out, I must say that 4 shots is a bit excessive for a man holding only a knife. Nick if you were truly a weapons expert I would hope you would know how to injure someone with a gun to the point where they wouldn't be able to continue their attack. I pretty sure if your leg is shot you would usually give up the fight at that point. Again I'm not saying the cop is a terrible guy, he didn't expect this and only had a second to react. I hope he has learned from this mistake and the department will look into it an hopefully offer some training on shooting with non-lethal consequences. I've only shot two guns in my life and I'm pretty sure if you put me up against a man with a knife and I have a gun that I could prevent him from killing me without having to kill him. It really sounds like the last 3 shots may have been with the intent to kill a man who was already on the ground. I would assume there are cameras outside there and if it proved that the last three shots were taken with crowley-smilek on the ground the officer should be charged. I know I seem on the fence a bit and argued both sides but that's cuz I don't know all the facts. I hope there are cameras to bring all the facts to light.

Chris Blake's picture

Don't

Roger, don't admit you have very little experience, then talk like you do. Please. It disrespects the people who are trained and ignores obvious truths.

Police are not trained to wound, plain and simple. If a cop has to take the last resort and draw their weapon to protect their own life, they are trained to eliminate the threat.

Nick Gagnon's picture

Roger, I am a weapons expert

Roger, I am a weapons expert with regards to marksmanship but I am NO DOCTOR. I couldnt tell you exactly how to make to perfect shot in the perfect place to make a person imobile except center mass. Again, shooting him in the leg creates a small target on a moving object, would you really chance your life and leaving your family alone by shooting that. When someones coming at you, his legs are moving, his body is more often than not squared off to you so it gives you the biggest target. So put the smaller, moving target together with the adrenaline running through you and the cloudy mind you get in a "combat" situation and your chances of hitting his leg is a very thin chance. As for the department changing its training in order for non lethal shots, it is not the department, it is law enforcement accross the nation. The state's criminal justice academy trains their officers, not the department. As for the four shots, training tells you to shoot to eliminate the threat. Not to say this guy was, but you never know at the moment if the person is on some kind of drug like PCP that can allow him to feel no pain and continue his attack. There is alot that goes into the training of law enforcement and there are reasons for the training. I understand most people that have never been in war or this kind of situation will never understand but there are reasons and the officer did exactly the right thing and I am sure the officer's family is thankful for his training.

Roger Moulton's picture

Disagree

I don't think you clearly understand the term "eliminate the threat". That does not mean you have to kill somebody. 1 or even two bullet shot wounds would make it so somebody with a knife can not continue to attack thus "eliminating the threat". It's pretty simple to me to take one or two shots and then back up to create more space between you and the knifed man which should give you a quick moment to evaluate whether or not he is going to continue at you. Mr Heckbert said he heard one shot a pause and then three quick shots. When you fire repeatedly like that it only leaves one to assume you meant to kill. I find it hard to believe that a police academy trains you to kill a man with a knife rather than trying to de-mobilize him and keep him alive. And also I think a mans thigh is a pretty good target if he is running at you. I do also understand that maybe the first shot missed and the other 3 were a last attempt to save the officer's own life, which is why I said I am commenting without knowing all of the details. I didn't say I am an expert or that my opinion or thoughts should be held as fact. These are simply my own thoughts and opinions which I am very entitled to. This "comment" section is made for just that thing it isn't for expert witness testimony or anything like that just a place for us to debate and give our opinions.

Nick Gagnon's picture

Roger, the academy does train

Roger, the academy does train us that way whether you find it hard to believe or not. Too many people that are not in their right mind due to drugs or PTSD or what have you can over come non lethal gun shot wounds and continue their attack. That is POSSIBLY why there was one shot and then a pause. He MAY have hit the attacker and the atacker continued on which would explain a quick rapid fire of three more shots. If he overcame the first, the officer could have been surprised by that and let out three quick rapid fire shots to stop the man. Either way, waist to shoulders shots to stop the attack. If hes not moving and you have time, you could shoot for the pelvic gurtle. And we are all entitled to our opinion. My opinion is, if you were armed with a gun in your home with your children and a man came into your home with a knife, you would protect youself and your children by trying to take the SOB out. You wouldnt go to the kitchen for a knife to make a fair fight. Am I wrong?

Justin

Justin needed help and should have gotten it...He fought for our country and it is ashame he ended up this way...This was a senseless shooting...Togus should have kept on helping him...War is hell...My prayers go out to his family...

Jennifer Chretien's picture

I'm choosing not to get

I'm choosing not to get involved with the discussion of who was right or wrong in this situation. I do want to say a bit about our vets. We send these young men and women into combat expecting them to see and do horrific things. Things most of us are unwilling and unable to do, they do this so that we can continue to have the freedom that we are used to. I know I couldn't do the things they have to do. I don't believe anyone can come away from these experiences unaffected. When they return from war we don't want to know about it, we want them to "suck it up and get over it". At best these attitudes are wrong and I would call them a disgrace to their service. I've heard people say that WWII vets just came home and went back to their lives. Maybe they shouldn't have had to, maybe they suffered silently for the rest of their lives. We need to have more respect for these war vets and provide them with the care they need and deserve, it's the least we can do, too many soldiers lose their lives, and their bodies are forever damaged. Those wound we can see are respected, the invisible wounds to peoples souls also need to be respected and treated. Just my opinion.

Jan Bachelder's picture

33 times

This kid has been in trouble with the cops 33 times, and comes at a man with a knife, obviously with intent to do harm, and you want to roast the police officer?? Everyone was ready to fry the FPD for not doing their job for Grace Burton. Perfectly willing to "tar and feather" three young men, who...hmmm....have been in trouble with the cops before. But let them do their job and it's wrong? What if he had lunged at YOU while YOU were walking by? Still thinking about that taser? Not me. I feel bad for the man, he needed help, everyone knew it. I feel really bad for the officer. No one joins a police department in small town Maine thinking they are going to have to kill someone, I'm sure. Stop judging the one who DID HIS JOB, and say a few prayers that he never has to do it again.

Officer

The oifficer fired 4 shots...

Chris Blake's picture

So?

You keep saying that like it's meaningful. What if the first 1 2 or 3 missed? 4 shots = Excessive force is a dangerous oversimplification.

Nick Gagnon's picture

Clarence, if you had a man

Clarence, if you had a man coming at you with a knife, would you want to chance a taser not working on him or malfunctioning? If the taser doesn't work properly when you deploy it, the attacker will have the chance, a really good chance, to kill you instead. A knife is deadly force so that is the reason you use deadly force to defend yourself. Using a taser on a knife wielding person is like the old saying about bringing a knife to a gun fight. Tasers are for people fighting and resisting using non deadly force such as punching and kicking, not to gamble with you life when someone's threatening to kill you, which is what it is when you attack someone with a knife. It is easy for people to sit back after they read a story and say what if but that officer didn't have the luxury of sitting back to think about the situation. He had to think fast and act faster.I'm sure if you were in the situation that officer was in, you would not shoot a taser and hoped it worked, and worked faster than the guy could stick you with a knife. I am curious what peoples reactions would be had the other guy reached his target and killed the officer? They would probably be saying the officer wasn't trained good enough.

Officer

The oifficer fired 4 shots...

Clarence Turner's picture

What is a police taser gun

What is a police taser gun for or due they not use them anymore?Why such a deadly result when perhaps a taser gun could have been used to take the man down to arrest him?Maybe the farmington police department do not have taser guns to use?Again,why not? When it could have avoided killing someone if there was another way to use deadly force to disarm the man?Of course the officer will be justified in killing this man but it seems to me a taser gun could have been used on him first,than kill him as a last resort.

Chris Blake's picture

You tell me

By all accounts the encounter took place within the space of a couple minutes. Are you trying to tell me that when someone pulls out a knife and comes at you from a few feet away you (or anyone) should be able to judge the need for lethal vs non lethal methods? Tasers are not magic. Neither are guns. Far too many people in this comment thread are seriously deluded as to their capabilities based on movies and TV. Aiming to wound with a pistol at extreme close range is a myth. Aiming a taser where it needs to hit at extreme close range on a target moving at you is nigh impossible.

Before folks bring up these "why didn't he just..." arguments, they should take a few moments and think it through.

I'm all for avoiding unnecessary killing, but in an America where nearly anyone can get a gun or a knife with ease, police officers start with the deck stacked against them, and no one should second guess their training since it is designed to first and foremost keep them alive so they can go home at the end of the day.

Melissa  Dunn's picture

i don't agree with the whole

i don't agree with the whole shoot to kill-couldn't he injure the guy instead? you HAVE to know or even have time to figure out a knife or gun in many cases. this is just too sad. i feel so bad for his family to have to endure this.

Nick Gagnon's picture

Why dont people understand

Why dont people understand that if you shoot to wound, a person can still come at you with a knife or still pull the trigger on their gun if you wound them and I know if I were in an officer's shoes, I will choose going home to my family at the end of the day over a person trying to hurt or kill me. Even if you think you are such a great shot with a hand gun that you can aim at a small target such as an arm or leg under the stress your under in a life and death situation, you have a great chance at missing. A person with a knife can average 14 to 17 steps toward you before an average person can draw a gun and shoot. Imagine now that most encounters such as these happen when you are engaged at 3 to 5 steps. Still think YOU would shoot to wound? If so, say good bye to your loved ones before you take a shift as a law enforcement officer. People need to see reality. It is a tremendous tragidy this happens but the officer had no choice. This is coming from a Marine Corps Veteran by the way.

Nick Gagnon's picture

Not to mention I am a five

Not to mention I am a five time weapons expert and I still would never trust myself to aim to wound when my life depends on it.

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