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Report of the Attorney General on the Use of Deadly Force by State Police in Auburn on 3-30-2007
May 18, 2007
DEADLY FORCE BY STATE POLICE TROOPERS LEGALLY JUSTIFIED
May 18, 2007 David Loughran, Special Assistant to the Attorney General (207) 626-8577 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Attorney General Steven Rowe announced today that two troopers, Lucas Hare and Douglas Cropper, both members of the State Police Tactical Team, were legally justified when they used deadly force against James M. Peters, 42, during the evening of March 30, 2007, in Auburn. Mr. Peters died as the result of being shot by Trooper Hare after an eight-hour standoff with police.
The Attorney General's investigation focused on the issue of whether the use of deadly force by the officers in the particular situation was legally justified. The Attorney General is required by law to review all occurrences in which a law enforcement officer uses deadly force while in the performance of the officer’s public duty.
Under Maine law, for a law enforcement officer to be justified in using deadly force for purposes of self-protection or the protection of third persons, two requirements must be met. First, the officer must actually and reasonably believe that unlawful deadly force is imminently threatened against the officer or a third person. Second, the officer must actually and reasonably believe that the officer's use of deadly force is necessary to meet or counter that imminent threat of unlawful deadly force.
Attorney General Rowe determined, based on the investigation conducted by his office and the application of controlling Maine law, that Troopers Hare and Cropper actually and reasonably believed that unlawful deadly force was being imminently threatened against them and others by James Peters, and that the officers also actually and reasonably believed that the use of deadly force on their part was necessary to protect themselves and others. Therefore, both requirements of the law having been met, the use of deadly force by Troopers Hare and Cropper was legally justified.
The Attorney General’s investigation revealed the following:
Shortly before 10:30 a.m. on March 30, 2007, two persons traveling together on Minot Avenue in Auburn noticed a man standing in the driveway of a residence at 1806 Minot Avenue. The man was holding what was described as an assault rifle and he was standing over a person on the ground who appeared to be an elderly woman. They called the Auburn Police Department. An Auburn police officer dispatched to the call observed the body of an elderly woman lying in the driveway near the residence at 1806 Minot Avenue. It appeared to the officer that the woman was deceased and had been shot in the head. A second officer arrived. The two officers observed a man, who was later identified as James M. Peters, appear on foot in the driveway brandishing an assault rifle. Peters yelled words that neither officer could understand.
Concluding at that point that Peters had likely shot and killed the woman (believed at the time and later determined to be his 76-year-old mother, Margaret Peters), and also believing that he was armed and was a potential threat to others, the Auburn Police Department closed Minot Avenue and started the evacuation of residents in the immediate area. Other residents were notified by telephone of the danger in the area of their homes and were instructed to remain inside. The State Police Tactical Team and the State Police Crisis Negotiation Team were called to the scene. Among the 17 members of the Tactical Team responding were Troopers Hare and Cropper.
While the evacuation of residents was underway, Peters was seen standing in the driveway near the woman’s body smoking a cigarette. Peters did not appear to be armed at that time. A team of officers approached Peters, but he entered the residence before they reached him. On at least two more occasions, Peters similarly appeared outside the residence, but retreated into the residence each time officers approached him. Over the course of the next several hours, 114 calls to the residence went unanswered by Peters. A negotiator used a loudspeaker in continuous attempts to communicate with Peters.
At one point a few hours into the standoff, Peters was observed in a window of the residence responding nonverbally to messages that were broadcast by the negotiator over the loudspeaker. As the attempts to communicate with Peters continued, several officers observed Peters at various times inside the residence appearing at different windows, sometimes holding a rifle. At other times, Peters opened windows in the residence, shouted indecipherably, and used an obscene gesture. Through various means, the police were able to reasonably conclude that Peters was alone in the residence and was able to hear the negotiator on the loudspeaker. Nevertheless, repeated attempts to engage Peters in communication failed.
Eventually, after several more hours, Tactical Team members fired tear gas rounds into the house in an attempt to force Peters from the residence. This was done at both the front and rear of the house. Three Tactical Team members, including the team commander, Sgt. Nicholas Grass, were near the front of the residence next to a Tactical Team vehicle. Peters responded to the introduction of tear gas into his residence by firing at the officers in front of the residence with what sounded to the officers like a fully automatic rifle. At least one round struck the Tactical Team vehicle and fragments of shattered glass struck Sgt. Grass in the face. It was later determined that bullet fragments had entered the vehicle, and missed several officers inside the vehicle. At least two of the rounds fired by Peters struck a residence across the road.
After Peters had stopped shooting, Sgt. Grass announced over the radio that the Tactical Team vehicle had been fired upon, and he gave the order that deadly force was to be used if Peters was sighted. Less than an hour later, Troopers Hare and Cropper observed Peters near a window holding something in his hands. Both Troopers fired their weapons at Peters. Neither Trooper knew at that point whether Peters had been struck. Over the next several hours, however, attempts at communicating with Peters were fruitless.
In the early morning hours of March 31, several Tactical Team members entered the residence and located Peters in the room where Troopers Hare and Cropper had previously shot at him. Peters was deceased. It was later determined that Peters had been struck by a shotgun round fired by Trooper Hare. Several firearms were found in the house. These included an AK-47 assault rifle, two high powered hunting rifles, a .12 gauge shotgun, and a .22 caliber rifle. Later investigation determined that the shotgun was the likely weapon used to kill Margaret Peters. The AK-47 assault rifle contained 17 live rounds, the shotgun two rounds, and one of the hunting rifles four rounds. Also found in the residence were 12 spent casings representing rounds fired at police by Peters with the assault rifle. Other ammunition in the residence included another clip for the AK-47 that contained 12 rounds, 52 rounds for a .357 handgun, and 35 rounds for the hunting rifles.
Detectives from the Office of the Attorney General went to the scene of the shooting in Auburn to conduct the investigation. They were assisted in the investigation by detectives from the State Police, as well as members of the Auburn Police Department, and Chief Medical Examiner Margaret Greenwald. Ballistic and other forensic evidence was examined by the Maine State Police Crime Laboratory. The Maine State Police cooperated fully with the investigation and is conducting its own departmental review of the incident.