AG Finds Police Officer's Use of Deadly Force in Waldoboro Justified

November 30, 2007

Attorney General Steven Rowe announced today that a Waldoboro Police Officer, Zachary Curtis, was legally justified when he shot and killed Gregori S. Jackson, 18, during the early morning hours of September 23, 2007 in Waldoboro.

The Attorney General's investigation focused on the issue of whether the use of deadly force by Officer Curtis 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 in the performance of the officer's 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. (Maine law defines deadly force as physical force that a person uses with the intent of causing, or which the person knows to create a substantial risk of causing, death or serious bodily injury. With respect to a firearm, intentionally or recklessly discharging a firearm in the direction of another person is deadly force under Maine law.)

Attorney General Rowe determined that, based on the investigation and legal analysis conducted by his office, Officer Curtis actually and reasonably believed that unlawful deadly force was imminently threatened by Mr. Jackson against Officer Curtis, who was attempting to take Jackson into custody. Further, based on the investigation and legal analysis, Attorney General Rowe determined that Officer Curtis actually and reasonably believed that deadly force on his part was necessary to protect himself from the imminent threat of deadly force against him.

The Attorney General reported the following findings from his office's investigation:[1]

Between 11:30 p.m. and midnight on Saturday, September 22, 2007, 17-year old D.B. received a telephone call from his friend, Gregori Jackson. According to D.B., Jackson asked him for a ride to a store to buy a pack of cigarettes and offered D.B. $20.00 for the favor. D.B. and his 17-year old cousin, D.W., drove to Whitefield to pick up Jackson, who, according to D.B., was "a little tipsy."

D.B., D.W., and Jackson drove to the 24-hour Irving Station on Route 1 in Waldoboro. Mr. Jackson entered the store and purchased cigarettes at approximately 2:06 a.m. on Sunday morning, September 23, 2007.

After purchasing the cigarettes and returning to the vehicle, a red 1995 Pontiac, Jackson told D.B. that since he had given him $20.00, he wanted to ride around some more before returning home. D.B., D.W., and Jackson traveled along Route 220, also known as the Friendship Road in Waldoboro. As the vehicle traveled south on Route 220, a police cruiser approached from the rear, with blue lights activated. According to D.B., Jackson "started tripping out" and said something to the effect, "Oh my God, oh my God, we're getting pulled over."

At approximately 2:14 a.m. on September 23, 2007, Officer Zachary Curtis of the Waldoboro Police Department stopped the vehicle D.B. was driving. According to Officer Curtis, he pulled the vehicle over after it had failed to stop at a stop sign at the intersection of Main and Jefferson streets, and after he had observed the vehicle cross over the center line of the road 5 or 6 times. Curtis observed that there were three occupants in the vehicle.

Officer Curtis approached the vehicle and detected an odor of alcohol coming from inside. After obtaining the driver's identification, Curtis learned that the vehicle was being operated by D.B.. D.B. denied having been drinking and Officer Curtis determined that the odor of alcohol was not coming from him. Curtis then requested the passengers in the vehicle to provide him with identification.

The front seat passenger (Gregori Jackson) did not provide Officer Curtis with identification, but did give his name as "Johnson" with a date of birth of 13/13/99. Officer Curtis believed that Jackson was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. He noted that a strong odor of alcohol was coming from Jackson's face, that his speech was slurred and that his eyes were glassy and bloodshot. At one point, D.B. talked with Jackson in an attempt to get him to cooperate with the officer, and told Jackson that he knew that Jackson had his identification with him because he needed it to buy cigarettes earlier. According to D.B., Jackson responded "sshh, don't tell him, don't tell him."

Eventually, Mr. Jackson provided his correct name and date of birth, 1/13/89, and at 2:28 a.m., Officer Curtis radioed Lincoln County Communications to run a "10-29" to determine if Jackson was "wanted." At 2:29 a.m., Lincoln County Communications informed Curtis that Gregori Jackson had a suspended driver's license and was subject to bail conditions, including the condition that he abstain from the use or possession of alcoholic beverages or illegal drugs.

Officer Curtis re-approached the passenger side of the D.B. vehicle and asked Mr. Jackson to step out. Upon being asked, Jackson acknowledged that he was aware that, as a condition of his bail on prior, unrelated charges, he was forbidden to use or possess alcohol. At that point, Curtis informed Jackson that he was under arrest, and Curtis attempted to handcuff Jackson. According to Curtis, D.B. and D.W., Jackson ran away from Curtis and attempted to run up a large boulder that was on the embankment to the side of the road. Curtis pursued and pulled Jackson down from the boulder and again attempted to handcuff him while Jackson was up against the rear of the vehicle.

According to Officer Curtis, Mr. Jackson broke free and a struggle ensued between the two. Curtis has stated that Jackson then took a swing at him and Curtis deployed pepper spray against Jackson with no effect. D.B. and D.W. recalled that after the deployment of the pepper spray, Jackson said something to the effect "I'm down, I'm down, I'm down, I'm sorry" or, "I give up", but Curtis does not recall hearing that. Curtis, D.B. and D.W. all agree, however, that shortly thereafter, Jackson ran south on Friendship Road. Officer Curtis followed him in pursuit. Curtis's can of pepper spray and his hinged handcuffs were dropped to the ground during this initial struggle at the D.B. vehicle.

At 2:31 a.m., while he was running down Friendship Road in pursuit of Jackson, Curtis radioed Lincoln County Communications and requested assistance. Approximately 150 yards from where the vehicle was located, Jackson left the road and entered the woods, with Curtis behind him.[2] According to Curtis, he could hear Jackson walking in the woods, and when he shouted to Jackson to stop and that he was under arrest, Jackson responded by saying "f--k off."

At 2:32 a.m. Officer Curtis radioed Lincoln County Communications that he was in the woods, and at 2:35 a.m., he requested Lincoln County Communications to send a canine unit to his location on the Friendship Road. According to Curtis, he heard Jackson stop walking and then came across Jackson lying on the ground under a log. Officer Curtis has stated that he drew his firearm, a Glock 22, .40 caliber handgun, and ordered Jackson to stay where he was.[3] Officer Curtis has stated that, as he attempted to handcuff Jackson, Jackson threw a log at the officer and struck him in the face, causing his glasses to come off.[4]

At 2:36 a.m. Lincoln County Communications radioed Officer Curtis "Do you still have a 10-74 (code for "officer needs assistance")?" Seconds later, Curtis responded "Lincoln have him in front of me. I just can't get a hold of him. It's thick woods through here." Lincoln County Communications again asked "Can you advise if still 10-74?" Curtis responded in the affirmative and stated "10-4, he just hit me with a log."

Curtis has indicated that he was only able to see approximately 4-5 feet in front of him and that he could make out shapes, but not details. Curtis also recalls that at some point during this time period, he returned his firearm to its holster.

According to Officer Curtis, as Mr. Jackson walked away from him, he (Jackson) became entangled in tree branches and brush and started yelling words to the effect that he "was not going to f--king jail." Curtis has said that Jackson continued to remain noncompliant with his orders to stop, and Curtis intended to deploy pepper spray again, but realized that it had dropped to the ground at the initial confrontation near the stopped vehicle. At that point, Curtis has stated, he drew his expandable baton and struck Jackson twice in the thigh area. These blows at one point knocked Jackson to the ground, but he got up, and as Curtis attempted to handcuff him, Jackson tackled Curtis, knocked him onto his back and got on top of him.[5] Curtis has stated that Jackson repeatedly struck him in the head with Jackson's right fist or elbow, and that Jackson was choking him by placing his forearm across Curtis's throat. Curtis has stated that during this struggle, he felt Jackson pulling at his sidearm, which was in its holster. Curtis recalls attempting to keep the gun in the holster, but at some point it came out.

According to Curtis, Jackson repeatedly said words to the effect "give me your gun, give me your f--king gun," and that he (Jackson) was not going to jail and he didn't care what it took. Officer Curtis has told investigators that, as Mr. Jackson continued to choke him, he began to fear for his own life and believed that he was going to lose consciousness and that if Jackson gained control of his gun, it could be used against him. Curtis has stated that during the struggle with the gun, Jackson had his hand on the slide mechanism, and that the gun was rendered inoperable (taken out of battery) when the slide was pulled back. At one point, Curtis tried to fire the gun and "it just clicked," according to Curtis. Although Curtis has no recollection or knowledge that any live rounds were ejected from the gun, four unexpended rounds were later found at the scene, suggesting that the slide was racked back several times during the struggle over the gun.

Officer Curtis has stated to investigators that he believed that if Mr. Jackson got control of his gun, "I'm a dead man." According to Curtis, as the struggle continued, he ultimately regained control of the gun with his right hand. Curtis has stated that he then made a decision to fire one shot into Jackson's left side. According to Curtis, the gunshot did not seem to slow down Jackson, and he continued to strike Curtis in the head. Curtis fired a second shot into what he believed was Jackson's back. Curtis recalls that Jackson continued to strike him, but "not with as much pressure." Curtis was able to get Jackson off of him when he fired a third shot, according to his recollection.

After what Officer Curtis believed was the third shot, Mr. Jackson ceased moving.

At 2:40 a.m. Officer Curtis radioed Lincoln County Communications to "Get someone here quick." Seconds later Lincoln Communications radioed back "516 (Lincoln County Sheriff's Deputy Henry Grenier) is on scene, where are you?" Curtis immediately responded "I'm in the woods south of my cruiser." Lincoln Communications then asked Curtis "Do you need a 10-57 (ambulance) or are you all set?" Curtis responded in the affirmative.

Within a short time, Lincoln County Deputy Sheriff Henry Grenier arrived at the scene and found Officer Curtis on his knees, appearing out of breath and disheveled. Deputy Grenier observed Mr. Jackson lying in front of Officer Curtis with blood coming from his ear. At the scene, Officer Curtis told Deputy Grenier that he had to shoot Jackson because he (Curtis) was being "choked out."

Within moments Deputy Grenier was joined by Sgt. Brendan Kane and Sgt. Jason Nein, both with the Lincoln County Sheriff's Department. Sgt. Kane instructed Deputy Grenier to handcuff Jackson (which he did using Officer Curtis's second pair of handcuffs) while Sgt. Nein checked Jackson's vital signs, finding no signs of life. Due to his lack of vision, Officer Curtis was escorted out of the woods by Sgt. Kane and Sgt. Jamie Wilson of the Waldoboro Police Department.

Gregori Jackson was dead at the scene.

Officer Curtis was transported to Miles Memorial Hospital in Damariscotta for treatment of his injuries, which included head, neck and back pain and multiple contusions of the head, face, right shoulder and left leg.

A postmortem examination and autopsy of the body of Gregori Jackson was performed by Deputy Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Marguerite deWitt on Monday, September 24, 2007. Dr. deWitt was able to document a total of five gunshot wounds, including three gunshot wounds to the left lower back in a 3-inch grouping, one to the mid-lateral left chest (several inches below the left armpit), and one to the left post auricular (behind the left ear) area of the head. The trajectories of the gunshot wounds to the lower left back were left to right, upward and forward. The range of each of these wounds was consistent with "loose contact. The trajectory of the gunshot wound to the mid-lateral chest was also left to right, upward and slightly forward. The range of that shot was also consistent with "loose contact." The trajectory of the shot to the head was left to right, upward and slightly forward. The range of that shot was characterized by Dr. deWitt as "distant", meaning in the range of at least 8-12 inches.[6] Toxicology tests determined that Mr. Jackson had a vitreous alcohol level of .20 grams % and a blood alcohol level of .21 grams %. No other drugs were detected.

Detectives from the Office of the Attorney General went to the scene of the shooting to conduct this investigation. They were assisted by detectives from the Maine State Police, officers with the Lincoln County Sheriffs' Office, and members of the Waldoboro Police Department, as well as forensic specialists with the Maine State Police Crime Laboratory, and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The Waldoboro Police Department has cooperated fully with this investigation and is conducting its own departmental investigation and review of this incident.

Contact: David Loughran (207) 626-8577