Report of the Attorney General on the Use of Deadly Force by Penobscot County Deputy Sheriff on June 28, 2015 in Carmel

February 29, 2016

Synopsis

On June 28, 2015, Alexis Lannon, 20, of Brewer, was shot and wounded by Penobscot County deputy sheriff Kari Kurth on the Main Road in Carmel.

Discussion

The Attorney General has exclusive responsibility for the direction and control of any criminal investigation of a law enforcement officer, who, while acting in the performance of the officer’s duties, uses deadly force.[1] The detectives in the Office of the Attorney General who investigate these incidents are independent of and unaffiliated with any other law enforcement agency. The purpose of the criminal investigation of the incident in Carmel on June 28, 2015, which resulted in Ms. Lannon being shot, was to determine whether self-defense, including the defense of others, was reasonably generated by the facts so as to preclude criminal prosecution of Deputy Kurth. Any such prosecution would require the State to disprove self-defense or the defense of others beyond a reasonable doubt. The investigation did not include an analysis of whether any personnel action might be warranted, of whether the use of deadly force could have been averted, or of whether there might be civil liability. Indeed, state law provides that conduct determined to be permissible under the Criminal Code does not abolish or impair any other remedy available under the law.

In order for any person, including a law enforcement officer, to use deadly force legally in self-defense or in defense of a third party, two requirements must be met. First, the person must actually and reasonably believe that deadly force is imminently threatened against the person or against someone else; and, second, the person must actually and reasonably believe that deadly force is necessary to counter that imminent threat. Further, whether the use of deadly force by a law enforcement officer is reasonable must be 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 given situation. The legal analysis requires careful attention to the facts and circumstances of each case, including the severity of the crime threatened or committed and whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of others.

Facts

Alexis Lannon spent the majority of her childhood in a boarding school for children with mental illness. She had a history of mental health episodes that resulted in several interactions with law enforcement. When she turned 18 years of age, Ms. Lannon left the boarding school and moved to a supported living facility in Brewer. In the early evening of June 27, 2015, a staff member of the supported living facility drove Ms. Lannon to Bangor to watch a baseball game. While at the baseball field, Ms. Lannon yelled unintelligibly at the staff member and ran off. The staff member had known and interacted with Ms. Lannon for several months and during that time had not observed Ms. Lannon behave in a similar fashion. The staff member and local firefighters searched the area of the baseball field for Ms. Lannon with no success. Ms. Lannon was reported as a missing person to the Brewer Police Department, which issued a statewide missing person broadcast that evening at about 9:30 p.m. During the night and into the morning of the next day, heavy rain fell in the area and the temperature was in the low 50’s.

The next morning, at about 8:30 a.m., several people in Carmel observed and reported to police strange behavior of a person later determined to be Ms. Lannon. The first sighting was by a motorist who saw Ms. Lannon emerging from under a bridge that crosses Souadabscook Stream.[2] A few minutes later, a couple residing on Main Road saw Ms. Lannon walking in the center of the road. They reported that she was swinging an object that appeared to be a “bola type weapon.” It was described as a rope with a railroad spike attached at its end.[3] The couple also saw a car slow down, and it appeared that the driver was attempting to assist Ms. Lannon, who was walking in the center of the roadway. The driver noticed that Ms. Lannon was holding a rope in her hand, and that attached to the end of the rope was a railroad spike. He also noticed that the spike was being dragged along the roadway. The driver contemplated going around Ms. Lannon but he stopped when she approached the driver’s door of his car. While he was stopped, Ms. Lannon struck the door and window of his car with the railroad spike attached to the rope.[4] The driver got out of his car and asked Ms. Lannon why she hit his car and she responded that “I don’t care what happens.” The driver described Ms. Lannon’s behavior and demeanor as similar to an intoxicated person. The driver drove to a local store and asked a clerk to call the police.

Another resident of Main Road saw Ms. Lannon walking in the roadway and heard the sound of glass breaking. It was later determined that Ms. Lannon had used her homemade weapon to smash the windshield of a car parked across the road. At about 9 a.m., another Carmel resident saw Ms. Lannon walking on Main Road swinging a rope with something metal attached to the end and striking traffic signs with the object. He also said that vehicles traveling on Main Road were swerving around the woman. Fifteen minutes later, another resident on the Main Road saw Ms. Lannon approach his mailbox carrying an object described as a rope with several attached metal spikes. The resident watched as Ms. Lannon tried to break the door off the mailbox and then began breaking off other pieces of the mailbox. As the resident approached Ms. Lannon and yelled at her to stop vandalizing the mailbox, she started swinging the homemade weapon over her head and yelled, “Do you want some of this?” The resident went into his house and called the police. He saw Ms. Lannon cross the road and strike the doors of the post office with the weapon and then he saw her damage lamp posts at the entrance of a church.[5]

Lt. Darren Corriveau of the Carmel Fire Department stopped at a local store at about 8:50 a.m. and the clerk told him about Ms. Lannon’s behavior and asked him for the number to the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office. After leaving the store in his vehicle, Lt. Corriveau saw Ms. Lannon damaging the lamp posts at the church on Main Road. He parked on the side of the roadway and called the Sheriff’s Office. He continued to watch Ms. Lannon and when he saw her walking towards him in an agitated manner, he backed his vehicle down the road. He stated that Ms. Lannon was holding a rope with attached metal spikes in her right hand and making a fist with her left hand. Deputy Sheriff Kari Kurth arrived and Ms. Lannon turned her attention towards her. Deputy Kurth was in uniform and driving a fully marked police cruiser.

Deputy Kurth was notified at about 9 a.m. of a female individual, later identified as Alexis Lannon, who appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol on Main Road in Carmel near a church. Deputy Kurth was less than five minutes away when she received the notification from the Penobscot County Regional Communications Center (PCRCC). It was raining and overcast at the time. As she responded, Deputy Kurth learned that Ms. Lannon was at the post office, that she had destroyed property and that she had a weapon, described as a metal object on the end of a rope. Two minutes after receiving the call, Deputy Kurth arrived near the church and observed a parked vehicle in the roadway facing in her direction. The vehicle was blocking the eastbound lane of the road. She recognized the driver as a member of the Carmel Fire Department. The vehicle’s headlights were on and were illuminating Ms. Lannon, who was standing in the middle of the roadway. Ms. Lannon did not appear to see Deputy Kurth’s cruiser. Ms. Lannon was swinging the rope with the attached metal spikes in a circular motion in front of her like a propeller. Deputy Kurth parked her cruiser. Before she got out of the cruiser, Ms. Lannon turned and saw her and began walking toward the cruiser. Deputy Kurth got out of her cruiser, shut the door, and yelled at Ms. Lannon to put her weapon down. Deputy Kurth removed her handgun from its holster, pointed it at Ms. Lannon and ordered, “Put your weapon down! Put your weapon down! I will shoot! Sheriff’s Office! Put your weapon down!”

Ms. Lannon refused to comply with Deputy Kurth’s instructions and continued walking toward Deputy Kurth, as Deputy Kurth began backing up. Deputy Kurth kept ordering Ms. Lannon to drop her weapon. Deputy Kurth described the object brandished by Ms. Lannon as a “homemade type weapon, medieval type with spikes on the end of a rope which she was swinging around.” Ms. Lannon kept moving toward Deputy Kurth, saying nothing, but staring directly at the deputy and continuing to swing her weapon in a threatening propeller motion. As Deputy Kurth continued to back away from Ms. Lannon, she kept her handgun pointed at Ms. Lannon and attempted to maintain a consistent distance from Ms. Lannon as Ms. Lannon continued to advance on her.

Deputy Kurth moved behind her cruiser and when Ms. Lannon reached the driver’s side of the cruiser, she struck the side of the cruiser with her weapon while continuing to stare at Deputy Kurth. Deputy Kurth continued to shout orders to drop the weapon, but Ms. Lannon ignored them and continued advancing toward her. By this time, Deputy Kurth noticed that Lt. Corriveau and another person had positioned themselves behind her. After additional orders to stop and drop the weapon, Deputy Kurth, now less than 20 feet from Ms. Lannon, fired one round at Ms. Lannon. The bullet struck her in the abdomen, at which point she stopped advancing but held onto her weapon and continued to stare at Deputy Kurth. Deputy Kurth yelled again for Ms. Lannon to put her weapon down. Ms. Lannon threw the weapon at Deputy Kurth and sat down in the roadway. When Ms. Lannon started to get back up, Deputy Kurth instructed her to stay on the ground. Ms. Lannon removed three rocks from her pocket and threw them at Deputy Kurth. Deputy Christopher Gray arrived shortly thereafter. At that point it was not yet determined whether Ms. Lannon was armed with other weapons. Ms. Lannon began removing additional items from her pockets, including a pair of socks, and throwing them at the deputies. Ms. Lannon then began to get up on her hands and knees at which point she was instructed by the deputies to stay down. Deputy Kurth said that during the incident, Ms. Lannon never broke eye contact with her.

Emergency medical technicians from the Carmel Fire and Rescue Service arrived and, while Ms. Lannon kicked at them and resisted treatment, they administered medical aid. Ms. Lannon was taken by ambulance to a Bangor hospital. Her injury was determined to be a gunshot wound that entered her left abdomen and exited her lower left back area. No internal organs were damaged by the bullet. She was discharged from the hospital four days later and returned to her residence in Brewer. Ms. Lannon was arrested on July 23, 2015, on a warrant charging criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon and two counts of criminal mischief. On September 9, 2015, the Bangor Unified Criminal Court found Ms. Lannon not competent to stand trial, and she was ordered committed to the Riverview Psychiatric Hospital in Augusta.

Conclusion

Attorney General Janet T. Mills concludes that at the time Deputy Kurth shot Ms. Lannon, she reasonably believed that unlawful deadly force was imminently threatened against her and others. It was reasonable for Deputy Kurth to believe it necessary to use deadly force to protect herself and any other persons within range of Ms. Lannon and her dangerous weapon. The Attorney General’s conclusions are based on interviews with numerous individuals, an extensive forensic investigation, and a review of all the evidence available from all sources. All facts lead to the conclusion that Deputy Kurth acted to defend herself and others from the unlawful use of deadly force by Ms. Lannon.

[1] 5 M.R.S. 200-A. [2] The Souadabscook Stream Bridge is located just a few feet from railroad tracks. The distance along the railroad tracks from the Bangor baseball field to the Souadabscook Stream Bridge in Carmel is 17 miles. [3] The bola (Spanish for ball) is a throwing weapon that generally consists of three weights on the end of three ropes. [4]The damage to the vehicle’s door and window was later estimated at $1,625.90. [5] It was later determined that damage to the posts was $500.00.

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