Hampden man arrested in false gunshot report

This story was published on April 07, 2008 on Page B1 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

HAMPDEN – A local man reported he had been shot in the chest during an emergency call late Friday night, which sent police and emergency crews into high alert looking to find the gunman.

But it turned out the incident was a hoax.

The caller, Gene Cowette, 47, was arrested for making a false report, probation violation and for causing a police standoff, which may mean he will have to pay for the expense of police and ambulance crews who responded to his false emergency.

Cowette, who is a resident at the Bangor Rescue Mission Farm on Meadow Road, placed a call just before midnight Friday to a friend, who in turn called emergency 911 with the report that Cowette had been shot by someone in his apartment building, Officer Dan Stewart said Saturday.

“He said he’d been beat up, his drugs had been stolen and that he had been shot … [and] hit in the lungs,” the officer said. “He’s telling his friend, who’s telling dispatch.”

Cowette said he had been shot by a man wielding a .25-caliber automatic handgun, who was wearing a red shirt, and at points during the conversation, “he was wheezing and gasping for air,” Stewart said.

Ironically, “he ended up describing himself as the gunman,” the officer said.

Police were intently looking for the gunman and evacuated eight people from the Bangor Rescue Mission Farm before searching the building. When Cowette left the building in a red shirt, he was taken down, pinned to the ground and handcuffed.

In his possession was the cell phone used to call the friend, who in turn had called for help.

“He was making up the whole story,” Stewart said.

The Bangor Rescue Mission was founded in 1965 to provide homeless men with temporary shelter and religious direction, according to its bylaws.

The not-for-profit mission includes a thrift store on Third Street in Bangor and the Hampden farm, which is located at 396 Meadow Road.

Five Hampden police officers, two Maine State Police troopers, two deputies from the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department and two ambulances with emergency life support paramedics assisted during the high-tension standoff.

The charge of causing a police standoff is “a fairly new law” designed to recoup the expenses of fake emergencies, Stewart said.

“There was two fully equipped ambulances,” he said. “It took all those officers [and emergency medical personnel] away from their normal duties.

“A lot of time was wasted,” Stewart said, calling the incident “frustrating.”

No estimates were given of how much it might have cost to respond to the situation.

The event lasted about an hour before it was determined Cowette was the suspect and was arrested and taken to Penobscot County Jail, where he remained Sunday.

Cowette did not give a reason for making the false emergency call, the officer said.

Cowette, who moved to the area from Aroostook County, was sentenced in 1990 when he was 29 years old to six months in jail for criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon. At that time he was living in a temporary shelter for the homeless in Presque Isle.

He also attempted to sue Aroostook County Jail in U.S. District Court in Bangor during 1996 for “transporting prisoners in a county van over the van’s capacity and without safety belts.” That lawsuit was dismissed as frivolous.

After Cowette was in jail, the Hampden officers gathered to talk about the situation and rehash how they handled themselves during the standoff, Stewart said.

“It was a good learning experience,” he said. “Knock on wood – it’s not something that happens very often in Maine,” adding it’s good to be prepared for everything.