During the early evening of Wednesday, July 3, 2013, Sgt. John Preston and Officer Joseph Bartlett of the Calais Police Department used deadly force against Daniel Pinney, 26, of Calais, during an armed confrontation at Mr. Pinney’s residence on Main Street in Calais. Although the rounds fired by Sgt. Preston and Officer Bartlett did not take Mr. Pinney’s life, it is the responsibility of this Office to determine whether the officers were acting in self-defense or in the defense of someone else at the time they employed deadly force.

Facts

On Wednesday afternoon, July 3, 2013, Megan Sherrard, 21, and her six-week-old son failed to appear at a 3:30 p.m. medical appointment in Calais. Ms. Sherrard’s mother located Ms. Sherrard’s unoccupied vehicle in the parking lot of the medical facility and noticed that the child safety seat was missing. She attempted unsuccessfully to reach Ms. Sherrard by cell phone, and then drove to several locations in Calais looking for Ms. Sherrard and the infant child. She drove by the Main Street apartment of the child’s father, Daniel Pinney, from whom Ms. Sherrard was estranged and against whom Ms. Sherrard had obtained a Protection from Abuse Order based on alleged threats of violence against Ms. Sherrard and her father. [1] Ms. Sherrard’s mother observed Mr. Pinney’s pickup truck parked outside the apartment, but did not stop. She continued to call Ms. Sherrard’s cell phone, but it only went to voice mail. Ms. Sherrard’s father left work to join his wife in searching for their daughter and grandson. On his way to meet his wife, he drove by Mr. Pinney’s apartment and was struck by the odd manner in which Mr. Pinney’s pickup truck was backed in and parked very close to the door of the building leading into the apartment.

Mr. and Mrs. Sherrard went to the Calais Police Department and met with three officers, Sgt. John Preston, Officer William White, and Officer Joseph Bartlett. Sergeant Preston and Officer White were familiar with Mr. Pinney and the alleged threats that had resulted in the Protection from Abuse Orders issued against him. The officers decided they would go to Mr. Pinney’s apartment to look for Ms. Sherrard and the baby. Officer White was operating a marked Calais police cruiser; Sgt. Preston and Officer Bartlett were in a second marked police cruiser. All three officers were in uniform. They arrived at Mr. Pinney’s apartment on Main Street shortly before 6 p.m. They, like Mr. Sherrard earlier, were struck with the odd fashion in which Mr. Pinney’s pickup truck was parked, as it left only approximately three feet of space between the truck’s passenger door and the doorway of a mudroom that led to Mr. Pinney’s apartment. The officers looked inside the truck and saw a child safety seat. Officer White approached the rear of the residence on foot. Sgt. Preston directed Officer Bartlett to stand near the driver’s door of Mr. Pinney’s vehicle, and Sgt. Preston went to the apartment door.

As Sgt. Preston knocked on the storm door to the mudroom, he saw Ms. Sherrard carrying a baby and running toward the door. Sgt. Preston tried to open the storm door, but it was locked from the inside. Ms. Sherrard was able to open the door from the inside at the same time that Mr. Pinney shot her in the back. [2] Sgt. Preston grabbed Ms. Sherrard, who was still holding her baby, and pulled her out of the doorway. Sgt. Preston drew his handgun and began shooting at Mr. Pinney, who was now less than ten feet away at an inner doorway to the apartment. [3] Upon hearing the gunfire, Officer Bartlett, who was outside next to the pickup truck, also shot at Mr. Pinney. Sgt. Preston pulled Ms. Sherrard, who was gravely wounded, away from the building to safety. He directed Officer Bartlett to take the baby, who was also injured from the shots fired by Mr. Pinney, outside the building. The officers determined that Mr. Pinney was deceased. Sgt. Preston provided emergency medical aid to Ms. Sherrard until emergency medical technicians arrived.

Detectives from the Office of the Attorney General went to the scene in Calais to conduct an investigation. They were assisted by several members of the State Police, including evidence technicians and detectives. It was later determined by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner that Mr. Pinney was struck twice in the chest and once in the arm by three of the .45 caliber rounds fired by Sgt. Preston. However, it was also determined that Mr. Pinney died as a result of a wound to the head from a single 9mm round. Mr. Pinney was the only person armed with a 9mm weapon. A fragment of a jacket of a 9mm bullet was found in Mr. Pinney’s head during the autopsy and the spent 9mm round itself was found in a hat Mr. Pinney was wearing at the time of the incident. The Chief Medical Examiner’s Office concluded that Mr. Pinney killed himself by shooting himself in the head. Mr. Pinney’s blood-alcohol content at the time of his death was 0.239%.

Ms. Sherrard suffered four gunshot wounds, two to her back that passed through her body and exited her chest and two wounds to her left arm, most likely caused by the rounds that passed through her back and chest. The infant child suffered wounds to his right ear and left foot, again most likely from the rounds that struck and passed through his mother. Sgt. Preston also suffered a grazing wound to his hand from a round fired by Mr. Pinney.

Both Ms. Sherrard and her infant son survived the multiple gunshot wounds, and Ms. Sherrard was later able to speak with investigators concerning the events of the afternoon of July 3rd. On that afternoon, according to Ms. Sherrard, Mr. Pinney agreed to meet her for the purpose of returning a cell phone to her. Mr. Pinney, she said, wanted to meet in a private area, but Ms. Sherrard insisted on a more public location. The pair agreed to meet near a place of business across the street from Mr. Pinney’s apartment after the scheduled medical appointment. When Ms. Sherrard arrived in the parking lot of the medical facility for the 3:30 appointment, she was accosted by Mr. Pinney, who instructed her at gunpoint to get into his pickup truck with the baby. Ms. Sherrard said that Mr. Pinney told her that they were going to his apartment where he intended to kill her and then kill himself. On the way to the apartment, Mr. Pinney displayed a knife and told Ms. Sherrard that he had intended to stab her if she refused to go with him.

Arriving at his apartment on Main Street, Mr. Pinney backed his vehicle to a point approximately three feet from the entrance to the apartment so that Ms. Sherrard would be unable to flee when she got out of the vehicle. Ms. Sherrard took the baby into the apartment and sat down in the living room. She said that Mr. Pinney became perplexed over what to do with the baby and spoke about leaving the boy somewhere that would be safe and where he would be found quickly. Mr. Pinney told Ms. Sherrard the only reason he had not yet killed her was because she was holding the baby and he did not want to hurt him. Nevertheless, Mr. Pinney speculated that the police would come looking for Ms. Sherrard and the baby at some point and he told Ms. Sherrard that he would shoot her, even if she was holding the baby, if that was to occur. During the approximate two hours that Ms. Sherrard was held captive at the apartment, Mr. Pinney drank wine and encouraged her to do so, telling her it would be easier for her if she drank the wine.

Ms. Sherrard said that when the police arrived, she saw them outside the apartment, but Mr. Pinney did not. She said she realized that she needed to run because she knew that Mr. Pinney intended to shoot her in the apartment if he saw the police. She ran for the door, and Mr. Pinney shot her in the back just as she reached the doorway. Initially, she was unable to open the locked door and when she did get it open, she said she fell into the arms of a police officer.

Analysis and Conclusion The Attorney General is charged by law with investigating any law enforcement officer who uses deadly force while acting in the performance of the officer's duties. The sole purpose of the Attorney General’s investigation in this matter was 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 of Sgt. Preston or Officer Bartlett. The review did 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 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 the use of force was reasonable is based on all of the circumstances, and is 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.

Attorney General Janet T. Mills has concluded that at the time Sgt. Preston and Officer Bartlett fired their weapons at Mr. Pinney, they reasonably believed that Mr. Pinney was using unlawful deadly force against them, Ms. Sherrard and her baby, and it was reasonable for the officers to believe that it was necessary for them to use deadly force to protect themselves and others from that unlawful deadly force.

Notes: [1] On May 16, 2013, a week before the birth of her son, Megan reported the alleged threats to the Calais Police Department. As a result, Mr. Pinney was arrested. Two days later, the Calais District Court issued the Protection from Abuse Order against Mr. Pinney, which prohibited him from having any contact with Ms. Sherrard. On June 11, 2013, nearly three weeks after the birth of the baby, a second Protection from Abuse Order was issued against Mr. Pinney prohibiting him from having any contact with the baby. Both Orders included a provision that prohibited Mr. Pinney from possessing a firearm.

[2] At least one of the two rounds that struck Ms. Sherrard in the back and exited through her chest also struck Sgt. Preston, resulting in a grazing wound to his hand. That round or a second one also struck Sgt. Preston’s bloused uniform shirt without striking his body and came to rest inside the shirt. The spent round was discovered later at the police station when Sgt. Preston removed his shirt.

[3] Fifteen (15) seconds elapsed from the time Sgt. Preston knocked on the door to the time the shooting ended. Mr. Pinney discharged four rounds, Sgt. Preston nine rounds, and Officer Bartlett one round.

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