AG Finds Trooper's Use Of Deadly Force In Rumford Legally Justified

November 30, 2007

Attorney General Steven Rowe announced today that a State Police officer, Trooper Timothy Black, was legally justified when he shot and killed Scott J. White, age 46, on September 22, 2007, outside the home of White's former wife in Rumford.

The Attorney General's investigation focused on the issue of whether the use of deadly force by Trooper Black 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. (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, Trooper Black actually and reasonably believed that unlawful deadly force was imminently threatened by Mr. White against Trooper Black and a second State Police officer, Sergeant William Keith, by White's actions. Further, based on the investigation and legal analysis, Attorney General Rowe determined that Trooper Black actually and reasonably believed that deadly force on his part was necessary to protect himself and Sergeant Keith.

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

On September 22, 2007, at about 10:25 a.m., the Rumford Police Department received a report from a caller that Scott White was inside the residence at 139 Penobscot Street in Rumford, the home of Mr. White's former wife, and that White had been consuming alcohol. The caller, a relative of Mr. White, told the police that White's presence in the residence and his consumption of alcohol were violations of bail conditions placed on White after an incident in June 2007 when White was arrested and charged with stabbing his former wife. The caller told the police that he had tried unsuccessfully to persuade Mr. White to leave the residence, but that White had refused. The caller also told the police that Mr. White had threatened to burn the house down and die in the process. A Rumford police officer who responded to the residence was successful in making telephone contact with White, but unsuccessful in getting White to come out of the house. Further attempts to telephone White inside the residence were unsuccessful. The police confirmed that a protection-from-abuse order and bail conditions prohibited White from being at his former wife's residence and from consuming alcohol. The police also learned that White's former wife was not in the residence. The Rumford Police Department contacted the State Police Tactical Team for assistance and informed State Police Tactical Team Commander Sergeant Nicholas Grass that White was in the residence in violation of a protection from abuse order as well as bail conditions, had consumed alcohol and was threatening to burn the house down.

The State Police Tactical Team responded to the location in Rumford and members of the State Police Crisis Negotiation Team tried to establish telephone contact with Mr. White starting at about 2:30 p.m. After more than two dozen call attempts to the residence in an hour, State Police Detective Adam Kelley, Commander of the State Police Crisis Negotiation Team, finally made phone contact with Mr. White. During intermittent phone calls between Detective Kelley and Mr. White, White stated that he was depressed, had been thinking about hurting himself, sounded intoxicated, and hung up when asked about any weapons he might have. The last phone conversation between Kelley and White took place at about 4:17 p.m. A few minutes later, another State Police negotiator, Sergeant Dale York, while inside a State Police Tactical Team armored vehicle parked on the street outside the residence, used the vehicle's public address system (loud speaker) to repeatedly ask White to pick up the phone and speak with Detective Kelley.

At about 4:30 p.m. Mr. White, while holding at least one knife (some officers reported seeing two knives) opened the side door of the residence and looked out. White refused to comply with the officers' request to drop the knife(ves). He told the officers that his phone had gone dead. White was again asked to drop the knife(ves) and to come out and talk with the officers, but he refused. Instead, he withdrew into the residence and closed and locked the door.

Via the loud speaker on the armored vehicle, Sergeant York told Mr. White that a working phone would be brought to the residence. White, while holding two knives, stepped out of the house and shouted to Sergeant York that the phone should be placed on the steps by the side door. Sergeant York responded that would not be possible as long as Mr. White was holding the knives. York informed White that the armored vehicle would be moved into the driveway and the phone would be placed on the lawn. White agreed and again reentered the residence and closed and locked the door behind him.

After the "throw telephone"[2] was placed on the lawn beside the residence, Mr. White came out of a door in the rear of the residence and stood at the southernmost corner of the residence, facing the armored vehicle still parked in the driveway. White held two knives, one in each hand. Various law enforcement officers on the scene described the knives as having blades anywhere from eight to ten inches long.[3] White shouted at the officers in the armored vehicle to back up. White rubbed the knives together as if in a sharpening motion. His attention remained focused on the armored vehicle in the driveway.

At this time, Sergeant Keith, after conferring with Tactical Team Commander Sergeant Grass, decided to try to move undetected to a position directly behind Mr. White in order to utilize a TASER (a less than lethal electronic weapon) in an attempt to physically incapacitate White. Sergeant Keith motioned to Trooper Black, who was near Keith, to be the "cover officer" (carrying a firearm to cover Keith, who was carrying the TASER). Sergeant Keith and Trooper Black left their positions of cover behind the residence and moved to a position estimated by the officers to be between 6 and 12 feet behind White without being detected by White. White continued to shout and appeared focused on the officers in the armored vehicle.

From his position behind Mr. White, Sergeant Keith deployed the TASER against White. Only one of the two TASER electrodes struck White (in his mid back). The second electrode went over White's shoulder. White was not incapacitated by the one electrode; however, he apparently realized that something had just happened to him. White immediately turned around and faced Sergeant Keith and Trooper Black, and while holding a knife in each hand at waist level, White started to advance toward the two officers while Trooper Black shouted "get down, get down." As Mr. White advanced, Trooper Black fired his service weapon three times at White. White, struck by the rounds, fell to the ground still holding the knives in his hands. He was disarmed and immediately treated by emergency medical technicians. He was taken to a Rumford hospital where he was pronounced dead.

A postmortem examination and autopsy of the body of Mr. White was performed by Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Marguerite deWitt on September 23, 2007. The autopsy confirmed three gunshot wounds of the chest and abdomen. Toxicology tests determined that Mr. White had a vitreous alcohol level of .38 grams % and a blood alcohol level of .28 grams % (the latter test was conducted after intravenous fluids had been added to Mr. White's body at the hospital).

Detectives from the Attorney General's Office went to the scene of the shooting to conduct an investigation. They were assisted by detectives and forensic specialists from the State Police and officers of the Rumford Police Department. The State Police cooperated fully with the investigation, and conducted its own review of the incident.

[1] These findings are based upon interviews of law enforcement officers and civilians on the scene, audio recordings as well as medical, autopsy and forensic reports.

[2] The "throw telephone" is a portable phone that is connected by electrical wire to a phone in the State Police negotiation van. The purpose of providing the phone to Mr. White was to allow him to continue to communicate with the State Police negotiators from within the residence.

[3] The knife blades were later measured to be 7-1/2 inches and 8 inches in length.

David Loughran (207) 626-8577