January 24, 2003

JANUARY 27, 2003


Attorney General Steven Rowe announced today that a State Police trooper, Clifford Peterson, was legally justified when he shot and wounded Rodney E. Williams, 27, in Ellsworth the afternoon of December 23, 2002.

The Attorney General's investigation focused on the issue of whether the use of deadly force by Trooper Peterson 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 also deadly force under Maine law.)

Attorney General Rowe determined that, based on his office's investigation and legal analysis, Trooper Peterson actually and reasonably believed that unlawful deadly force had been used moments previously by Rodney Williams against another trooper, Sgt. Kelly Barbee, and that Williams continued to pose an imminent threat of further unlawful deadly force against the officers and citizens. The investigation and legal analysis also determined that Trooper Peterson actually and reasonably believed that deadly force on his part was necessary to protect himself and the others from death or serious bodily injury. Therefore, both requirements of law having been met, the use of deadly force by Trooper Peterson was legally justified.

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

During the late morning of December 23, 2002, a Waldo County deputy sheriff was transporting Rodney E. Williams and a second inmate from the Waldo County Jail in Belfast to the Maine Correctional Center in South Windham. The deputy sheriff was driving a marked Waldo County sheriff's office cruiser. Neither inmate was restrained and both rode in the rear seat of the cruiser, shielded from the deputy by a Plexiglas barrier. Williams persuaded the deputy to stop the cruiser on the side of the road on Route 3 in Palermo by telling the deputy that he (Williams) was sick to his stomach. After the deputy assisted Williams from the vehicle, Williams physically overpowered the deputy and took his service weapon, a .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol. Williams then ordered the deputy at gunpoint to resume driving, reverse direction, and to drive back toward Belfast. The second inmate remained in the rear seat of the vehicle, while Williams sat in the front seat of the vehicle, directing the deputy to Belfast and then north along Route 1. Somewhere enroute, Williams put on the deputy's uniform jacket. At Williams' direction, the deputy eventually came to a stop at a gravel pit in Penobscot in Hancock County where Williams compelled the deputy to place an end of a leg shackle on one of the deputy's wrists, and then escorted the deputy at gunpoint into a wooded area. With Williams and the deputy out of view, the second inmate got out of the cruiser and ran off into a wooded area to hide. The second inmate, upon hearing the cruiser leave the gravel pit, came out of hiding and met up with the deputy sheriff. The deputy and inmate were eventually successful in flagging down a vehicle, the driver of which drove the pair to a local grocery where the deputy called authorities to report that his cruiser and service weapon had been commandeered by Williams.

The deputy's noontime report to authorities resulted in three Hancock County deputies leaving Ellsworth in different directions at about the same time in search of the Waldo County cruiser. Just outside of Ellsworth, two of the deputies spotted the cruiser driving on Route 172 toward Ellsworth from the Blue Hill area. The sighting was reported by radio to the other Hancock County deputy. All three deputies turned around and drove back toward Ellsworth in an attempt to overtake and stop the Waldo County cruiser. In the meantime, Trooper Clifford Peterson was just leaving the State Police field office in Ellsworth when he heard the radio traffic of the Hancock County deputies and, from the nature and tone of the traffic, concluded that the deputies were in pursuit of a vehicle. He drove toward downtown Ellsworth. At about the same time, Sgt. Kelly Barbee of the State Police, off duty and with his daughter, was just leaving a store on lower Main Street in Ellsworth when he observed the Waldo County cruiser near the intersection of Main Street and Water Street. Sgt. Barbee, in civilian clothes and unarmed, was unaware of the report of an escapee or a stolen cruiser. Sgt. Barbee said the noise of the cruiser's tires and engine drew his attention just as the cruiser, seemingly out of control, traveled into the oncoming lane of Main Street and then across both lanes of travel, striking a parked vehicle and coming to a stop after jumping the sidewalk curb and crashing into a storefront about 50 feet from where Sgt. Barbee and his daughter were standing.