Maine woman claims deputy shot her while she was being held hostage

8 months ago

An Aroostook County sheriff’s deputy shot through a Hodgdon woman to kill the man holding her hostage, she claims in a federal lawsuit.

Lena Gerber filed suit Tuesday with U.S. District Court in Bangor against the sheriff’s office, Deputy Isaac Ward and her former attorney, Jeffery Pickering, arising from the fatal shooting of Jacob Wood on April 14, 2021.

Deputies responded at around 3 a.m. that night to a 911 call from Wood, who was at Gerber’s residence. Wood was distressed, had stabbed himself in the leg and wanted to be killed by police, according to both the lawsuit and the Maine attorney general’s report on the shooting.

Deputies, including Ward, arrived to see Wood holding Gerber in front of him with a knife to her throat. After repeatedly telling Wood to drop his weapon, which he did not, Ward shot and killed him and also hit Gerber, the reports stated.

Gerber’s claims are the first known account of her injuries. Her allegations differ drastically from what was reported in the attorney general’s account.

Ward had a clear shot at Wood, who was beside Gerber, the attorney general’s report says. But the police could not have seen Wood, as he was behind her, the lawsuit states. 

Ward fired twice, with one bullet killing Wood and the other grazing Gerber’s left side, according to the attorney general. But Gerber claims Wood fired a bullet that injured Gerber’s arm, went through her chest and into Wood. It also fractured her sternum.

Police didn’t use nonlethal means to resolve the conflict and should have given Wood a chance to surrender, the suit claims. The attorney general’s report says Ward commanded Wood several times to let the woman go and he did not respond to those commands.

Gerber suffered permanent physical and emotional injury when Ward’s shot went through her chest and into Wood, the 26-page lawsuit filed by Willey Law Offices of Bangor claims.

Gerber hired Pickering, a Houlton lawyer, to file a claim against Ward and the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office, the lawsuit said. 

During the year that followed, Pickering told Gerber he was working on the case but did not file the claims. Gerber took her case to another lawyer but the one-year period for filing such claims had expired, according to the suit.

The lawsuit brings nine counts against Ward, the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office and any unnamed law enforcement who had been present, and Pickering. 

Gerber’s rights not to be shot by police as a hostage victim were violated, police used excessive deadly force by shooting through her at Wood, officers were negligent because they did not warn they were going to use deadly force and did not try to use nonlethal means to deescalate Wood, Gerber suffered physical and emotional pain that persists, and Pickering was negligent when he failed to pursue Gerber’s case, the lawsuit claims.  

Gerber wants a jury trial. 

Deputy Ward was put on administrative leave pending investigation, which is standard practice after an officer shoots someone.

In February, the attorney general’s office exonerated Ward for acting in defense of the hostage. The attorney general investigates all cases of police use of deadly force to determine if the officers’ actions were justified, but it has never found an officer unjustified.

Neither the lawsuit nor the attorney general’s report confirm Gerber’s injuries. 

The state attorney general’s office declined to comment and efforts to reach Pickering were not successful. 

Representatives from Willey Law Offices did not immediately respond to requests for information.
The Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar suspended Pickering from practice in 1986 for violating Maine Bar rules, including engaging in dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation and out-of-court statements. Following his reapplication, the board reinstated him in 2002. The board issued Pickering a public reprimand in 2009 for failing to prepare properly for a case closing.

Correction: The story has been amended to reflect that Pickering was charged with violating Maine Bar rules.