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Report of Attorney General on the Use of Deadly Force by State Police Trooper in West Paris on June 8, 2013
October 8, 2013
On Saturday evening, June 8, 2013, James Reynolds, 18, was shot and gravely wounded by State Police Trooper Jason Wing during an armed confrontation outside a home on the Roy Road in West Paris that Mr. Reynolds had allegedly burglarized.
The Roy Road in West Paris is an unpaved private roadway that passes through a highly rural area. The few residents on the road remain vigilant to any suspicious activity. On June 8, 2013, at 6:11 P.M., a resident called the State Police to report a suspicious person on the road. The resident reported that she had learned from a neighbor that a person known to the caller only as “James” had been observed moments earlier by the neighbor walking on the Roy Road towards the caller’s home. According to the caller, “James” was allegedly responsible for a past residential burglary on the Roy Road, so his presence in the area was suspicious. “James” was later identified as James L. Reynolds, 18, of West Paris.
State Police Trooper Jason Wing was on duty in a patrol area that included West Paris. He was in uniform and driving a marked State Police cruiser. Trooper Wing was contacted by a State Police dispatcher and informed of the information related by the Roy Road resident. Specifically, Trooper Wing was told the suspicious person was a known burglar. The dispatcher also told Trooper Wing that, according to the caller, the individual seen on the road was prohibited from being in the area. Initially, the caller was unable to remember the full name of the individual but, in a subsequent call, she identified him as James Reynolds and provided a description of his clothing. This information was communicated by the dispatcher to Trooper Wing.
At about the same time, the police received a call from a mental health worker who reported that James Reynolds had been reported missing by his mother from the home they shared in West Paris. The mother reportedly told the worker that her son suffered from mental health disorders, was a danger to himself, and had attempted suicide in the past. This additional information was communicated to Trooper Wing. Minutes later, Trooper Wing also learned that the original caller had looked for Mr. Reynolds on the Roy Road and, not having found him, believed that he had gone into the abutting wood line.
Within a half hour of the original call, Trooper Wing reported that he discovered where Mr. Reynolds had been walking and he requested a tracking dog. While in his cruiser and speaking by cellular phone with a game warden about a dog, Trooper Wing observed a man who matched the description of Mr. Reynolds next to a nearby shed-like structure on the grounds of a seasonal residence. Trooper Wing got out of his cruiser and saw the man look at him and then quickly move out of view behind the structure. The man then reappeared from behind the building with objects in both hands. The man stood in such a fashion that Trooper Wing, situated nearly 80 feet away, was unable to recognize the nature of the objects. Trooper Wing issued commands for the man to “drop what’s in your hands.” The man – later identified as James Reynolds – responded “F--- you!” and displayed a rifle “scooped under his arm” and pointed at Trooper Wing. Trooper Wing drew his service weapon – a .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol – as he sought cover near his cruiser, and issued several commands for Mr. Reynolds to drop the rifle. Mr. Reynolds responded again with “F--- you!” and leveled the rifle directly at Trooper Wing. Trooper Wing discharged three rounds at Mr. Reynolds. Mr. Reynolds was struck by the gunfire and fell to the ground.
Mr. Reynolds sustained a head wound and injuries to his arm and leg. He was treated by Trooper Wing and others at the scene and was taken by helicopter to a Lewiston hospital.
Detectives from the Office of the Attorney General went to West Paris to investigate the incident. They were assisted by State Police detectives and evidence technicians, as well as members of the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office. It was determined that the weapon brandished by Mr. Reynolds in the confrontation with Trooper Wing was a .35 caliber lever action hunting rifle. Mr. Reynolds had live rounds for the rifle in his possession, although the rifle was not in fact loaded and had a locking mechanism on it. The owner of the seasonal residence confirmed that his residence had been broken into and that the rifle and other items in Mr. Reynolds’ possession had been stolen from the premises. Attempts to interview Mr. Reynolds were prevented by his mother and later by his legal counsel.
Analysis and Conclusion The Attorney General is charged by law with investigating the circumstances under which any law enforcement officer uses deadly force while acting in the performance of the officer's duties. The sole purpose of the Attorney General’s investigation is to determine whether self-defense or the defense of others, as defined by law, was reasonably generated by the facts so as to preclude criminal prosecution. The review does not include an analysis of potential civil liability, whether any administrative action is warranted, or whether the use of deadly force could have been averted. Under Maine law, for any person, including a law enforcement officer, to be justified in using deadly force in self-defense or the defense of others, two requirements must be met. First, the person must actually and reasonably believe that unlawful deadly force is imminently threatened against the person or someone else; and, second, the person must actually and reasonably believe that deadly force is necessary to counter that imminent threat.
Whether deadly force by a law enforcement officer is reasonable is based on the totality of the particular circumstances, and must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, allowing for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation. The analysis requires careful attention to the facts and circumstances of a particular case, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of officers or others, and whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.
It is beyond the scope of this report and beyond the authority and expertise of the Attorney General’s Office to speculate on Mr. Reynolds’ motivations, his state of mind, or the medical or psychological underpinnings of his actions at the time he confronted Trooper Wing on June 8, 2013.
However, Attorney General Janet T. Mills has concluded that at the time Trooper Wing fired his weapon at Mr. Reynolds, Trooper Wing actually and reasonably believed that deadly force was imminently threatened against him, and that it was reasonable for Trooper Wing to believe it necessary to use deadly force to protect himself from the imminent threat of unlawful deadly force by Mr. Reynolds. The Attorney General’s conclusions are based on an extensive scene investigation, on interviews with numerous individuals, and on a review of all evidence made available from any source.