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Report of the Attorney General on the Use of Deadly Force by Federal Task Force Officers in Portland on January 27, 2012
August 17, 2012
In the early evening hours of January 27, 2012, Arien L’Italien, 22, of Eagle Lake and Biddeford, was shot and wounded by U.S. Deputy Marshal Michael Tenuta and Special U.S. Deputy Marshal John Gill during an armed confrontation in Portland.
The United States Marshal’s Service for the District of Maine operates a Violent Offender Task Force based in Portland and Lewiston. The Task Force consists of Deputy U.S. Marshals and Special Deputy U.S. Marshals. The special deputies are state, county, and municipal law enforcement officers in Maine with federal law enforcement authority allowing them to work with the task force to locate and apprehend fugitives who are subject to federal or state arrest warrants. The task force also lends assistance in special circumstances to other law enforcement agencies and its members are specially trained and equipped. Two members of the Task Force are U.S. Deputy Marshal Michael Tenuta and Special U.S. Deputy Marshal John Gill, a Scarborough police officer.
On January 17, 2012, a warrant was issued by the Superior Court in York County for the arrest of Arien L’Italien on a charge of aggravated assault for conduct that allegedly occurred in Biddeford on January 1, 2012. During the course of an investigation to locate and apprehend Mr. L’Italien, it was learned that Mr. L’Italien was armed with a handgun, was believed to be engaging in the armed robbery of drug traffickers, and had allegedly discharged the firearm randomly while riding as a passenger in a vehicle on the Maine Turnpike. Mr. L’Italien was known to be a convicted felon and a person prohibited from possessing firearms. Further investigation disclosed that Mr. L’Italien had been dropped off in Portland the evening of January 26 to meet an associate whose family was believed to reside on Cumberland Avenue in Portland.
Near dusk later in the afternoon of January 27, a person believed to be Mr. L’Italien was observed by task force agents entering an apartment building on Cumberland Avenue. Just over an hour later, the same person, accompanied by another individual, left the building and the two made their way on foot through an alleyway to the Mellen Street Market about a block away. Four members of the Task Force, including Deputies Tenuta and Gill, were on foot and positioned at vantage points near the market. The area around the market is a heavily populated residential district and includes the Sacred Heart Church at the corner of Mellen and Sherman Street. Mr. L’Italien and his companion were in the market briefly before leaving and walking on the sidewalk up Mellen Street. The four task force agents observing Mr. L’Italien and his companion started to close the distance between themselves and the two men.
Near the Sacred Heart Church, the agents identified themselves as law enforcement officers and ordered Mr. L’Italien and his companion to stop. Both men turned and looked at the officers, and then started running as further commands to stop were issued. When the officers were 15-25 feet away, Mr. L’Italien, still running, turned toward the officers brandishing a .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol and shot at the agents. Deputy Marshals Tenuta and Gill returned fire. One of the rounds struck Mr. L’Italien in his right leg, and Mr. L’Italien was disarmed and taken into custody. In the meantime, Mr. L’Italien’s companion complied with commands to get on the ground, but fled from the area during the shooting. It was learned later that the man attempted, but was denied entry by parishioners into the Sacred Heart Church. He was later located and questioned but not charged with any crime. The investigation was unable to establish which of the two deputy marshals fired the round that struck Mr. L’Italien. The investigation disclosed that Mr. L’Italien shot four rounds at the federal officers, while Deputy Marshals Tenuta and Gill each discharged four rounds in return.
Mr. L’Italien was provided immediate medical aid by Deputy Tenuta and then by Portland MEDCU paramedics. He was thereafter treated at Maine Medical Center and later transferred to the Cumberland County Jail.
On March 26, 2012, Mr. L’Italien entered a guilty plea in the U.S. District Court in Portland to three federal charges related to the incident on January 27. Those changes were assault on a federal officer, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and using a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. Mr. L’Italien was later sentenced to 18 years in federal prison, which will be followed by 4 years of incarceration in a state prison for a previous felony theft conviction, and five years of federal probation.
Legal Analysis and Conclusion
The Attorney General is charged by law with investigating the circumstances under which any law enforcement officer uses deadly force in Maine while acting in the performance of the officer's duties. The sole purpose of the Attorney General’s investigation is to determine whether self-defense or the defense of others, as defined by law, was reasonably generated by the facts so as to preclude criminal prosecution. The review does not include an analysis of potential civil liability, whether any administrative action is warranted, or whether the use of deadly force could have been averted. Under Maine law, for any person, including a law enforcement officer, to be justified in using deadly force in self-defense or the defense of others, two requirements must be met. First, the person must actually and reasonably believe that unlawful deadly force is imminently threatened against the person or someone else, and, second, the person must actually and reasonably believe that deadly force is necessary to counter that imminent threat.
Whether a particular use of force is reasonable is based on the totality of the specific circumstances, and must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, allowing for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation. The analysis requires careful attention to the facts and circumstances of a particular case, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of officers or others, and whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.
Attorney General William J. Schneider has concluded that at the time shots were fired at Mr. L’Italien by Deputy Marshals Tenuta and Gill, it was reasonable for both officers to believe that unlawful deadly force was imminently threatened against them, as well as other officers, and it was reasonable for both officers to believe that it was necessary for them to use deadly force to protect themselves and other officers from the imminent threat of deadly force posed by Mr. L’Italien’s actions. The Attorney General’s conclusions are based on an extensive scene investigation, interviews with numerous individuals, and review of all evidence made available from any source.