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LEWISTON POLICE USE OF DEADLY FORCE FOUND LEGALLY JUSTIFIED
February 13, 2004
FEBRUARY 13, 2004
CHARLES DOW, DIRECTOR, COMMUNICATIONS & LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS, 626-8577
Attorney General Steven Rowe announced today that three Lewiston police patrol officers, Carly Conley, 24, Eric Syphers, 33, and Matthew Vierling, 33, were legally justified when they shot and wounded Vince A. Berube, 40, of Norway, outside the Lewiston Police Department, on the night of December 17, 2003.
The Attorney General's investigation focused on the issue of whether the use of deadly force by the officers 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 of unlawful deadly force. (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 general direction of another person is also deadly force under Maine law.)
Attorney General Rowe determined, based on the investigation conducted by his office and the application of controlling Maine law, that Officers Conley, Syphers, and Vierling actually and reasonably believed that unlawful deadly force was being imminently threatened by Vince Berube against Officer Conley and that the use of deadly force on their part was necessary to thwart that threat. In addition, Officers Syphers and Vierling actually and reasonably believed that unlawful deadly force was being imminently threatened by Vincent Berube against them, and that the use of deadly force on their part was necessary to thwart that threat. Therefore, both requirements of the law were met, and the use of deadly force by Officers Conley, Syphers, and Vierling was legally justified.
The Attorney General reported the following findings from his office's investigation:
Shortly before 9:35 p.m. on Wednesday, December 17, 2003, Patrol Officer Carly Conley exited to the rear of the Lewiston Police Headquarters into what is known as the “compound,” a fenced parking area, bordered by Park and Spruce Streets, designated for police vehicles. Conley was on duty and in uniform as she made her way towards her police vehicle. It was a very rainy and windy night. Conley observed a pickup truck drive into the police compound through the Spruce Street access gate and stop. She walked past the passenger side of the vehicle toward her own police car, observing on her way by that no passenger was in the truck. Within seconds, she heard a door open and a man’s voice from the driver’s side of the truck yelling profanities about the police, accompanied by smashing sounds from the vicinity of where she knew police cruisers to be parked.
Conley used her portable radio to request immediate assistance in the compound. She then retraced her steps to a position behind the pickup truck and observed a man, a stranger to her, striking a police cruiser with a silver-colored metallic object she believed to be a hatchet, continuing all the while to yell and scream. The man, later identified as Vince A. Berube, 40, of Norway, upon seeing Conley, immediately redirected his yelling and screaming at her, raised the object in his right hand above his head, and charged towards her. At that moment Officer Conley believed Berube to be in a “rage.” See note below. She further observed that Berube’s shirt was bloodied.
Officer Conley retreated backwards toward the police building, all the while maintaining visual contact of Berube and yelling commands to Berube of “stop,” and “don’t move.” Officer Conley’s commands to Berube had no effect on him, and Conley recognized that the distance between them was closing faster than she could backpedal. Continuing to retreat, Officer Conley drew her service weapon and aimed it at Berube. Berube showed no reaction to the display of the firearm or the verbal commands of Officer Conley; he continued to close the distance between them rapidly. When Berube was about six feet from Conley, the officer discharged her service weapon multiple times at Berube. Berube fell to his knees, then onto his side.
At about the same moment that Officer Conley discharged her service weapon at Berube, Officers Syphers and Vierling, in response to Conley’s earlier radio call for assistance, exited to the rear of the police building into the compound to the sound of gunfire. Both observed Officer Conley, her service weapon drawn and pointed to her front, to be backpedaling. Both observed Berube on the ground. Neither officer at that point knew that it was Officer Conley who was exclusively responsible for the gunfire. Both officers heard Conley repeatedly order Berube to “stop” and “don’t move.” Both officers drew their service weapons and aimed them at Berube. At this point Berube was lying on his right side, his back to the officers. Officer Syphers, unsure as to whether Berube was armed, unable to see Berube’s hands, and seeing Berube disregarding Conley’s commands by moving his body in an apparent effort to get up, ordered Berube to “stay down,” and “show me your hands.” Berube ignored Syphers’ commands and, in the process of Berube turning his body, Officer Syphers saw a metallic object in Berube’s moving hand. Officer Syphers ordered Berube to “drop the weapon.” When Berube failed to comply, Officer Syphers discharged his service weapon multiple times at Berube. Officer Vierling, unsure as to whether Berube was armed, but observing Berube ignore the verbal commands of both Officer Conley and Officer Syphers, fired multiple times at Berube when Berube began to turn his body towards Syphers and Vierling.
It was determined from the Lewiston police radio log that the duration of time from Officer Conley’s call for assistance to the first report of shots fired in the compound was ten seconds.
Additional officers immediately entered the compound. Berube was disarmed of the weapon, which at that point was determined to be a large, silver-colored, claw framing hammer. Berube was provided immediate medical attention by officers and, a few moments later, by paramedics. Berube was taken by ambulance to a Lewiston hospital where he underwent treatment for several gunshot wounds, and has since been released.
Later investigation disclosed that Vince Berube, prior to entering the police compound in his vehicle, had suffered several puncture wounds to his torso, as well as lacerations to his wrists. Berube told those later treating him that he had himself inflicted those wounds, and he made repeated requests that no efforts be made to save his life.
The Androscoggin County District Attorney’s Office has charged Vince Berube with criminal offenses as a result of the incident. Six detectives from the Office of the Attorney General went to the scene of the shooting in Lewiston to conduct the investigation. They were assisted in the investigation by detectives from the State Police, as well as personnel from the State Police Crime Laboratory. The Lewiston Police Department cooperated fully with the investigation and is conducting its own departmental review of the incident.
Note: Officer Conley is 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighs about 120 pounds. Berube is 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighs about 210 pounds.
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