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Report of the Attorney General on the Use of Deadly Force by State Police Trooper on October 9, 2013, in Old Town
February 10, 2014
State Police Trooper on October 9, 2013, in Old Town
Synopsis During the evening of Wednesday, October 9, 2013, Christopher Ouellette, 28, was shot and killed at his home in Old Town by State Police Trooper Barry Meserve. It is the responsibility of the Office of the Attorney General to determine whether the officer was acting in self-defense or in defense of someone else at the time he used deadly force. Facts
Shortly before 6 p.m. on October 9, 2013, a dispatcher at the Penobscot County Regional Communications Center (RCC) received a 911 call from a man who refused to identify himself, but was later determined to be Christopher Ouellette. He told the dispatcher that he was calling from 255 Main Street in Old Town, and that he had stabbed his girlfriend in the chest. The girlfriend was later determined to be April Haskell, 35, who lived with her children and Mr. Ouellette at 255 Main Street in Old Town. Children could be heard screaming in the background as Mr. Ouellette, who was frantic, told the dispatcher that he did not know if Ms. Haskell was breathing. The dispatcher asked if he could perform CPR, and Mr. Ouellette responded “no.” Mr. Ouellette said that he was going to kill himself. The dispatcher repeatedly asked for Mr. Ouellette's name; Mr. Ouellette responded that it did not matter. At times during the call, Mr. Ouellette was non-communicative with the dispatcher.
The RCC dispatcher informed Old Town Police Sergeant Michael Hashey and Old Town Police Detective Jamie Slauenwhite of the call. The two officers arrived at 255 Main Street within minutes and Sergeant Hashey told the dispatcher that he could hear a child screaming on the third floor of the building. When Sergeant Hashey got to the apartment door, he could hear Mr. Ouellette inside on the telephone with dispatch. Mr. Ouellette partially opened the door and Sergeant Hashey could see that he had a butcher knife in his right hand that was covered in blood. He also observed blood on Mr. Ouellette. Sergeant Hashey could hear screaming children inside the apartment. Sgt. Hashey conversed with Mr. Ouellette, who agreed to release an infant child, a 19-month-old girl, but said that he would not release a second child, a four-year-old boy. Mr. Ouellette released the girl and shut the apartment door. Sergeant Hashey communicated with Mr. Ouellette through the closed door and eventually was able to convince Mr. Ouellette to release the boy. Mr. Ouellette repeatedly told Sergeant Hashey that he wanted the police to shoot him and that he did not want to go back to jail. Sergeant Hashey attempted unsuccessfully to ascertain Ms. Haskell’s condition. He also tried repeatedly to persuade Mr. Ouellette to surrender.
Minutes after Sergeant Hashey made the initial contact with Mr. Ouellette at the apartment door, Orono Police Officer Sarah Exley and Penobscot County Deputy Sheriff Ryan Fitch arrived outside the apartment building and took positions behind the building in a municipal parking lot. From there, they could see Mr. Ouellette in a third floor window. Mr. Ouellette was sitting and looking out the window and he appeared to be agitated. Deputy Fitch could see a large kitchen knife in Mr. Ouellette’s hand that was covered in blood. Deputy Fitch conveyed his observations to other officers. Deputy Fitch yelled to Mr. Ouellette and asked him to go to the door. Mr. Ouellette responded that he was not going to open the door because he did not want to be tased. Deputy Fitch told Mr. Ouellette that the officers needed to make sure that Ms. Haskell was all right. Mr. Ouellette said that he did not want anyone to help Ms. Haskell. Mr. Ouellette said that Ms. Haskell was going to die anyway. Deputy Fitch repeatedly asked Mr. Ouellette to allow officers to render aid to Ms. Haskell. Mr. Ouellette said that he wanted the police to kill him. Deputy Fitch told Mr. Ouellette that the police did not want to hurt him, they only wanted to help Ms. Haskell. Deputy Fitch asked Mr. Ouellette if Ms. Haskell was still breathing. Mr. Ouellette said at different times that he was not sure or that he did not know.
Throughout this time, Mr. Ouellette remained in telephone contact with the RCC dispatcher. There were times when Mr. Ouellette would terminate the call and the dispatcher would call him back. At one point, Mr. Ouellette requested to speak with his counselor. The RCC dispatcher contacted the counselor by telephone and patched the call through to Mr. Ouellette. Mr. Ouellette told the counselor that he had stabbed Ms. Haskell. Mr. Ouellette said that he was concerned about being tased. Mr. Ouellette told the counselor that he could not go to jail because he knew what happened to men in jail who killed pregnant women. He told the counselor that he wanted the police to kill him. While Mr. Ouellette was speaking with his counselor, an officer on scene learned that Ms. Haskell was 26 weeks pregnant; this information was communicated to the other officers attempting to persuade Mr. Ouellette to allow them to check on Ms. Haskell’s condition.
Sergeant Hashey, who was still in the stairway outside the apartment door, told Detective Slauenwhite that should Mr. Ouellette open the door again that he would tase him. Mr. Ouellette may have somehow learned of the officer’s intention to deploy the Taser because he was heard a few minutes later saying “you are not going to tase me.” It was also determined that Mr. Ouellette was moving heavy objects inside the apartment in an apparent attempt to barricade the door. The officers remained concerned that Ms. Haskell was severely injured and in need of immediate medical assistance. However, Mr. Ouellette continued to deny the officers access to the apartment and to give conflicting statements as to Ms. Haskell’s condition. In the meantime, other officers, including State Police Trooper Barry Meserve, took positions outside in the parking lot behind the apartment building. Also on scene by this time were Old Town Police Chief Donald O’Halloran and Old Town Police Captain Kyle Smart. The officers discussed deploying tear gas but determined that it was not feasible for the particular circumstances.
Trooper Meserve’s location in the parking lot was later determined to be about 75 feet from the window where Mr. Ouellette was seen. Trooper Meserve was armed with a rifle. He could see Mr. Ouellette in the window and could hear Deputy Fitch communicating with Mr. Ouellette. He heard Deputy Fitch tell Mr. Ouellette that the police needed to get inside and check on Ms. Haskell. He heard Mr. Ouellette say something to the effect of “why would I let you come in and save her?” He also heard Mr. Ouellette say, “I’m not going back to jail” and “shoot me, just shoot me.” Trooper Meserve concluded from the information available to him that there was a possibility that Ms. Haskell was still alive and in need of immediate medical aid.
When Mr. Ouellette next appeared in the window, Detective Slauenwhite attempted to fire his rifle at him, but the weapon malfunctioned. Almost simultaneously, Trooper Meserve fired one round from his rifle. The officers saw Mr. Ouellette fall inside the apartment. The officers who were outside the apartment door heard the gunshot and they heard Mr. Ouellette fall to the floor. However, they were still unable to get into the apartment because Mr. Ouellette had moved kitchen appliances against the door. Sergeant Hashey used a ladder that had been previously staged to enter the apartment through the third story window. He found Mr. Ouellette on the floor with a gunshot wound to the head. He found Ms. Haskell deceased in a back bedroom.
Detectives from the Office of the Attorney General went to the scene in Old Town to conduct an investigation. They were assisted by several members of the State Police, including evidence technicians and detectives. A later postmortem examination and autopsy performed by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Augusta determined that Ms. Haskell died from numerous large, deep stab wounds to her right shoulder area and a stab wound near the heart. She also had a laceration to her throat. It was also determined that Ms. Haskell was pregnant with a male child, who did not survive. The Chief Medical Examiner’s Office determined that Mr. Ouellette died as a result of a single gunshot wound to the head. A contusion on his neck was determined to be a suicidal hesitation mark. The scene investigation and postmortem examinations were consistent with the accounts given by the officers at the scene and other witnesses.
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 Trooper Meserve. 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 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.
Attorney General Janet T. Mills has concluded that at the time Trooper Meserve shot Mr. Ouellette, he reasonably believed that unlawful deadly force had been used against Ms. Haskell and that it was reasonable for him to believe that it was necessary to use deadly force to try to save Ms. Haskell’s life.