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FINDINGS OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL ON THE POLICE USE OF DEADLY FORCE AGAINST CHRISTOPHER PULLEN
June 4, 2003
Attorney General Steven Rowe announced today that a State Police trooper, Sgt. James Urquhart, was legally justified when he shot and killed Christopher R. Pullen, 36, in Poland during the early morning of May 6, 2003.
The Attorney General's investigation focused on the issue of whether the use of deadly force by Sgt. Urquhart 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, Sgt. Urquhart actually and reasonably believed that deadly force on his part was necessary to protect himself and another officer, Trooper Blaine Bronson, from the imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury posed by Christopher Pullen. Therefore, both requirements of law having been met, the use of deadly force by Sgt. Urquhart was legally justified.
The Attorney General reported the following findings from his office's investigation:
At approximately 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 5, 2003, Pullen telephoned his estranged girlfriend in an attempt to persuade her to come to his house to talk with him. The girlfriend had moved out of the house she occupied with Pullen in Mechanic Falls the previous week, and was staying with a friend in Mechanic Falls. Her move from the Pullen residence coincided with Pullen’s latest arrest for operating under the influence. The girlfriend recognized that Pullen had been drinking and refused to go to his house. At approximately 11 p.m., Pullen was discovered by his girlfriend outside the residence where she was staying. She opened the door and refused his repeated requests to be admitted. She observed that he was intoxicated and was armed with a shotgun. He told her someone had set fire to his home. She shut the door and walked away with the intent to use the telephone to call the police. Pullen opened the door and entered, ignoring her demands for him to leave. He told her that she would not be able to call the police because he had cut the phone line.
Over the next few minutes, Pullen repeatedly blamed her for all his difficulties, indicated that he had nothing to live for, threatened to shoot both her and her mother, and physically assaulted her. Several times he intentionally pointed the gun directly at the girlfriend’s face. At other times he threatened to kill himself. At one point he placed the butt of the shotgun on the floor, placed his face over the barrel and reached for the trigger. The girlfriend wrestled the barrel away. He responded by slapping her.
At some point, the friend with whom the girlfriend was staying left the residence and called the police from the home of a neighbor.
Pullen eventually fled the home after hearing sirens, later determined to be emergency units responding to a report of Pullen’s house being on fire. It was also later determined that the telephone service wire on the outside of the residence where the girlfriend was staying had been severed.
Meanwhile, the Mechanic Falls Police and Fire Departments had been dispatched to the Pullen residence for a structure fire. Officers checked the home and found no one there. They requested that other officers be on the watch for Pullen, announcing that he might be armed, that he was suspected of having set fire to his own home, and that he had threatened his estranged girlfriend with a gun a few minutes before.
Slightly less than a half hour later, three Androscoggin County deputy sheriffs encountered Pullen on Route 121 in Poland. They found him parked alongside the road in his pickup truck, and at first they drove past, then turned around and took up positions behind the truck. Initially it was not clear as to whether Pullen was actually in the vehicle. However, almost immediately the officers discovered that he was sitting behind the steering wheel. Pullen then opened the driver’s door and exited the truck. He was carrying a shotgun in his right hand. The situation turned into a standoff between Pullen and the police that lasted more than three hours.
During the duration of the standoff, with Pullen armed either with a shotgun or a rifle or both, as well as a knife, continuous attempts were made to talk Pullen into relinquishing the weapons. One of the Androscoggin County deputy sheriffs established and maintained constant communication with Pullen for the first two hours. Ultimately, that deputy was relieved in the negotiation attempts by two State Police negotiators. During the standoff, Pullen threatened to kill both himself and police on a number of occasions. He also consumed several cans of beer. He continuously paced around his vehicle and in the area in the roadway between his truck and police cruisers. He alternated between holding the rifle and the shotgun. At times, he leaned both weapons against his truck, but was never more than a few feet from them. At one point, after putting down both the shotgun and the rifle and opening another can of beer, a State Police negotiator told Pullen that officers were concerned for their safety when Pullen was holding a weapon. Pulled replied, “They should be.” At another point, Pullen deactivated the safety, knelt down and placed the barrel under his chin. He ultimately was convinced by the negotiator not to pull the trigger, got up and reactivated the safety. As he paced around the area of his pickup truck, Pullen generally kept the barrel pointed toward the ground, but sometimes, when agitated and yelling, he waved the gun around, resulting in the barrel pointing toward police. Other times he lifted the barrel toward police in a more deliberate and provocative manner although never aiming it at a specific officer. At another point, Pullen, armed with the shotgun, walked directly towards a State Police negotiator and other officers. He ignored repeated commands to stop and was approximately ten feet from one of the officers when he yelled at the officer that if the officer shot him, he would kill the officer. Pullen then turned around and walked back to his pickup truck.
Despite pointing his guns toward police officers on a number of occasions throughout the standoff, Pullen had initially announced to the officers that he would not hurt them unless they approached him. At a point later into the standoff, Pullen announced to the officers that his “promise” in that regard was off, and that “someone’s going to get hurt tonight.” Pullen tried to coax the officers into shooting him. He told them that he would not leave the scene alive, and asked what it would take to make them shoot him. At times, Pullen would open his shirt, point to his chest, and invite the officers (sometimes taunt the officers) to shoot him in the heart. At another point, Pullen waved his knife around, saying he would fight hand-to-hand with the officers in the woods. At other points, acting in a less aggressive manner, Pullen sat on the open tailgate of his pickup truck.
Three hours into the standoff with police, after the negotiator convinced Pullen that he should not attempt to leave in his truck, the roadway being blocked in both directions, Pullen retrieved a soft beverage cooler with a strap and a 30-pack of beer from his pickup truck. He indicated that he was going to walk into the woods and that nobody better follow him. He picked up both the shotgun and the rifle and walked toward the negotiators. He put a beer can on the hood of one the cruisers and threw the keys to his pickup truck toward the negotiator, telling the negotiator he could have the truck. Pullen then packed the cooler with as much beer as he could, strapped the cooler across his body, and walked away from the roadway into a field. He carried the shotgun in one hand and the rifle in the other. Officers tried to persuade Pullen to return to his pickup truck. At one point, he turned and hesitated, but turned and continued walking into the field toward the woods.
In the meantime, two members of the State Police Tactical Team, Sgt. Urquhart and Trooper Bronson, as well as a police canine, were in the process of traversing the field near the wood line. Once Pullen left his vehicle, they were alerted to the changed circumstances and instructed to engage Pullen before he could enter the woods. Trooper Bronson was the dog handler. When Pullen was about 30 yards from the officers, Trooper Bronson released the dog. The dog, seemingly confused by the sound of officers back on the roadway who were still trying to persuade Pullen to return to his pickup truck, twice failed to execute the expected aggressive action against Pullen. Both times the dog was released, it went to Pullen but returned to Trooper Bronson’s position without taking aggressive action. As Trooper Bronson prepared a third time to release the dog on Pullen, Pullen turned toward the officers and warned the officers not to do it.
Seconds later, Pullen raised both weapons in the direction of Sgt. Urquhart and Trooper Bronson. Sgt. Urquhart issued commands of “State Police,” and “drop the weapons.” Pullen did not reply to or heed the commands. He moved toward the officers, pointing the firearms directly at them. As Pullen continued to advance on the officers, Sgt. Urquhart fired two rounds, both of which struck Pullen. At the time the shots were fired, Pullen was approximately 56 feet from Sgt. Urquhart and Trooper Bronson.
Immediate emergency first aid was rendered to Pullen by a Tactical Team medic, as well as local paramedics who were close by and immediately available. Pullen was taken to a Lewiston hospital where he later died from the gunshot wounds. A post mortem examination by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner found two gunshot wounds to be consistent with the version of events described by Sgt. Urquhart and Trooper Bronson, as well as 17 other officers and one citizen witness who observed to varying degrees the events immediately leading up to the shooting.
Four investigators from the Attorney General's Office, assisted by detectives and forensic specialists from the State Police and Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, conducted the investigation. The State Police cooperated fully with the investigation and is conducting its own departmental review of the shooting incident.