Report of the Attorney General on the Use of Deadly Force by Belfast Police Officer on June 8, 2011
February 14, 2012
Shortly before midnight on June 8, 2011, Benjamin Thompson, 26, of Swanville, was shot and seriously wounded in Belfast by Belfast police officer Daniel Fitzpatrick during an armed confrontation following a vehicle chase that started in Searsport.
While working a night shift on June 8, 2011, Officer Daniel Fitzpatrick of the Belfast Police Department heard a radio broadcast from Officer Eric Marcel of the Searsport Police Department that he was attempting to stop a dark colored Jeep Cherokee on the Brock Road in Searsport. Officer Marcel reported that the vehicle had a loud exhaust and its plate light was out. He reported that the driver of the vehicle was refusing to stop. Hearing that the Jeep Cherokee was heading toward the Smart Road in Belfast, Officer Fitzpatrick and Belfast police officer Mathew Cook traveled up the Swan Lake Road (Route 141) in their separate fully marked police cruisers to the Smart Road where they stopped and waited near an intersection. Officer Fitzpatrick remained in his cruiser while Officer Cook walked over to Officer Fitzpatrick’s car. Both officers were in uniform. The two officers were engaged in conversation when they saw the headlights of a car approaching from the Curtis Road.
Officer Fitzpatrick observed that the approaching vehicle was a dark color sport utility vehicle travelling at a high rate of speed; he suspected that it was the same vehicle that Officer Marcel had tried to stop. He and Officer Cook watched the vehicle make a sharp right turn onto the Smart Road toward Belfast. As Officer Cook went back to his cruiser, Officer Fitzpatrick activated his blue lights and followed the vehicle. The vehicle failed to stop. Officer Fitzpatrick, followed by Officer Cook, pursued the vehicle for about a mile on the Smart Road, and observed it continuously swerving from the travel lane into the oncoming traffic lane. The vehicle was traveling faster than the posted 35 MPH limit. Officer Fitzpatrick was able to read the plate number on the vehicle and recognize it as a dark colored Jeep Cherokee. The vehicle began to slow down as it neared the intersection of Route 141. It stopped at the intersection.
Officer Fitzpatrick quickly got out of his cruiser and observed the driver of the Jeep, later identified as Benjamin Thompson, lunge from the vehicle with what Officer Fitzpatrick believed was a rifle. As the driver got out of the vehicle, the Jeep rolled backwards three or four feet until it lodged against the front right fender and tire of Officer Fitzpatrick’s cruiser.
Officer Fitzpatrick retreated to the space between his cruiser and its open door while ordering the driver to “put your hands up,” and firing several shots until Mr. Thompson fell to the ground. Officer Cook was getting out of his cruiser behind Officer Fitzpatrick’s cruiser when he heard Officer Fitzpatrick’s command and the sound of three or four gunshots. Officer Cook covered Officer Fitzpatrick while Officer Fitzpatrick secured the shotgun Thompson had held. Officer Cook, assisted by Waldo County deputy sheriffs who had arrived at the scene, then handcuffed Mr. Thompson, who was combative and implored the officers to kill him.
Portions of the event were recorded on a video camera in Officer Fitzpatrick’s cruiser. From the time that the Jeep Cherokee stopped at the intersection of the Smart Road and Route 141 to the time that Officer Fitzpatrick fired at Mr. Thompson was eight seconds. The distance between Officer Fitzpatrick and Mr. Thompson was 15-20 feet.
Mr. Thompson sustained gunshot wounds to his abdomen and upper left leg. The long gun he was brandishing was determined to be a .20 gauge loaded shotgun that was cocked and ready to fire when Mr. Thompson bounded from the Jeep Cherokee. Mr. Thompson was treated by police officers and emergency medical personnel at the scene and taken by ambulance to a Bangor hospital for treatment. It was later determined that Officer Fitzpatrick had fired a total of four shots at Mr. Thompson and that two of the shots struck him. Detectives from the Office of the Attorney General went to the scene to conduct an investigation. They were assisted by several members of the State Police, the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office, and the Belfast Police Department. The Belfast Police Department cooperated fully with the investigation, and later conducted its own internal review of the shooting.
The Attorney General is charged by law with investigating any law enforcement officer who uses deadly force while acting in the performance of the officer's duties. The sole purpose of the Attorney General’s investigation in this matter was 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 did 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 reasonably believe that deadly force is imminently threatened against the person or someone else, and, second, the person must reasonably believe that deadly force is necessary to counter that imminent threat.
Whether a use of force is reasonable is based on the totality of the particular 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. Thompson by Officer Fitzpatrick, it was reasonable for Officer Fitzpatrick to believe that deadly force was imminently threatened against him, and it was reasonable for Officer Fitzpatrick to believe that it was necessary for him to use deadly force to protect himself from the imminent threat of deadly force posed by Mr. Thompson’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.