A Westbrook police officer was briefly hospitalized Tuesday after he was exposed to suspected fentanyl powder during a late-night traffic stop and began to feel ill, police said.
After the stop, Maria V. Bowie, 36, was charged with aggravated trafficking in scheduled drugs, unlawful trafficking in scheduled drugs, assault on an officer, reckless conduct, unlawful possession of scheduled drugs, refusing to submit to arrest, falsifying physical evidence and criminal forfeiture.
She has yet to make a first appearance in court, and is being held in the Cumberland County Jail.
The traffic stop began when Westbrook officer Kipp Bleicken spotted a black 2010 Volkswagen Jetta with one burned-out headlight and stopped the vehicle on Main Street about 12:30 a.m., according to a police report filed in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court.
When Bleicken approached Bowie, she handed him her license and immediately showed him replacement bulbs, saying she knew the headlight was why he stopped her, the police report said.
But Bleicken recognized Bowie as a “drug associate,” and called for a police dog to assist him, he wrote in the report. As Bowie pulled up her insurance card on her cellphone, Bleicken circled from the driver side of the vehicle to the passenger side and spotted an orange plastic bottle of pills partially concealed under Bowie’s leg.
The bottle had its label scraped off, and Bowie told him the pills belonged to a friend, who she then called on her cellphone.
The friend on the phone said he left the bottle in her car, but Bliecken was suspicious that Bowie was lying so he asked her to get out of the car, but she resisted.
Bleicken said he was going to search her vehicle, and asked Bowie if she had anything of note in the car. Bowie admitted she had “rigs,” or hypodermic needles in her purse, and reached to get them from the bag, which was sitting on the center console, Bleicken wrote.
But Bleicken told her not to touch the bag or anything else. Bowie argued, and asked if she could just get a cigarette.
“I reached into the car through the passenger’s window and grabbed the purse,” Bleicken wrote. “She latched onto the purse and began screaming … while continuing to pull the purse away from me. I pulled the purse from her hand at which time I observed (a) cloud of white powder burst into the air.”
The inside of the car’s passenger door, center console and Bowie’s hands were covered in powder, Bleicken wrote.
By this time, a second officer, Benjamin Hall, helped Bleicken handcuff Bowie. Both officers ended up with white powder on their clothes.
A field test of the powder showed it was a presumptive positive for fentanyl, the highly potent synthetic opiate that is responsible for hundreds of overdose deaths in Maine.
Hall began to show signs of exposure to fentanyl, and was taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland, and later released.
Although court records do not spell out Hall’s symptoms, other police who were exposed to fentanyl and who participated in a 2018 federal work safety study reported feeling light-headed, experience heart palpitations or tightness in their chest or difficulty breathing, among other symptoms.
Officers are recommended to wear gloves, and avoid breathing or otherwise ingesting the powder.
Fentanyl is about 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin, meaning about 2 milligrams could be a fatal dose.
In Bowie’s purse, police found hypodermic needles, a spoon with residue and cotton swab tip, nearly $1,800 in cash and a small baggy with a clear crystalline substance that later tested presumptive positive for crystal methamphetamine.
Because of the danger of further exposure to the suspected fentanyl powder, police cut short their search of the vehicle, sealed its doors with evidence tape and towed it to an impound lot, according to the court records.
The exposure is not the first time first responders have had to deal with fentanyl risks.
In June, a suspect being transferred from a police vehicle into the intake area of Cumberland County Jail spilled suspected fentanyl powder inside the cruiser. No one required hospitalization in that case, but the jail’s entryway was shut down while the spill was cleaned up.
Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at: