Report of the Attorney General on the Use of Deadly Force by Presque Isle Police Officer on May 7, 2016, in Presque Isle

December 19, 2016

Synopsis

In the early evening of Saturday, May 7, 2016, Presque Isle police officer Lucas Hafford shot and gravely wounded Derek Sam, 26, of Caribou, during an armed confrontation in a Main Street parking lot in Presque Isle. Mr. Sam died three days later from the gunshot wounds.

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 Presque Isle on May 7, 2016, which resulted in Officer Hafford shooting Mr. Sam, was to determine whether the facts reasonably generated a case of self-defense, including the defense of others, so as to preclude criminal prosecution of Officer Hafford. 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.

There are two requirements with which any person, including a law enforcement officer, must comply to legally use deadly force in self-defense or in defense of a third party. First, the person must actually and reasonably believe that there is an imminent threat of deadly force against the person or against someone else; and, second, the person must actually and reasonably believe it is necessary to use deadly force to counter that threat. 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 and Circumstances

On Saturday, May 7, 2016, at 5:45 p.m., a caller reported to the Presque Isle Police Department that there was a “very intoxicated man” walking on “all fours” in the roadway on Main Street. The caller provided a description of the man. Presque Isle police officer Lucas Hafford, who was in uniform and operating a marked police cruiser, responded to the call. He was initially unable to locate the man. A few minutes later, another caller reported that a man was sitting on the curb in the area of the McDonald’s restaurant on Main Street. The caller said that the man was holding a knife and was bleeding from the area of his throat. While still on the phone, the caller said that man stood up and was walking into traffic on Main Street.

As Officer Hafford approached McDonald’s in his cruiser, he saw a man, later identified as Derek Sam, walking south on Main Street. Officer Hafford stopped his cruiser in the road near the entrance to a gift shop parking lot, which resulted in traffic coming to a stop on Main Street. Mr. Sam appeared to have a knife and he appeared to be bleeding. Officer Hafford got out of his cruiser as Mr. Sam continued to walk south on Main Street away from him. Officer Hafford yelled to Mr. Sam to stop. When Mr. Sam turned to look at Officer Hafford, Officer Hafford confirmed that Mr. Sam was holding a knife in his right hand. Officer Hafford recognized Mr. Sam from a previous encounter involving a domestic assault arrest. During that encounter, Mr. Sam was dangerous and volatile. Despite Officer Hafford’s request for him to stop, Mr. Sam continued to walk in a southerly direction on Main Street away from Officer Hafford.

Officer Hafford returned to his cruiser, drove it into the parking lot, and stopped. He got out of his cruiser and again instructed Mr. Sam to stop because he wanted to talk with him. Mr. Sam made a slicing motion across his neck with the knife and fell to the ground with his back toward Officer Hafford. Unable at this point to see the knife, Officer Hafford drew his sidearm as he approached Mr. Sam, warning him not to reach for the knife. Even though Mr. Sam was on the ground, Officer Hafford could see that he was conscious. A former State Police trooper traveling on Main Street drove into the parking lot, and got out of his vehicle to assist Officer Hafford. Mr. Sam quickly sprang to his feet with the knife still in his hand and started backing away from Officer Hafford. Officer Hafford repeatedly told Mr. Sam to drop the knife. He refused and “glared at” Officer Hafford while telling him to “just shoot me.”

Officer Hafford then deployed a TASER at Mr. Sam from a distance of 15-20 feet. However, the TASER was ineffective; several witnesses later described seeing Mr. Sam pull the dual prongs from his torso. Mr. Sam still held the knife in his right hand. He started walking directly towards Officer Hafford, who started backing up to maintain some distance between himself and Mr. Sam. Officer Hafford repeatedly yelled at Mr. Sam to drop the knife. When Mr. Sam did drop the knife, Officer Hafford instructed him to get down on the ground. Instead of following the officer’s instructions, Mr. Sam bent down, picked up the knife, and once again started advancing on Officer Hafford. Officer Hafford continued to walk backwards. Again, he repeatedly told Mr. Sam to drop the knife. Mr. Sam responded by telling Officer Hafford to shoot him.

Without warning, when Mr. Sam was about 30 feet from Officer Hafford, Mr. Sam dropped the knife again and, again, when Officer Hafford instructed him to get down on the ground Mr. Sam bent down and picked up the knife. Mr. Sam resumed walking toward Officer Hafford, ignoring the officer’s appeals to drop the knife. Mr. Sam continued to advance on Officer Hafford, telling the officer to shoot him. Mr. Sam was closing the distance on Officer Hafford by walking faster than Officer Hafford could retreat. Mr. Sam was making a “stabbing motion” with the knife. When Mr. Sam was about ten feet away, Officer Hafford shot him. Mr. Sam fell to the ground. Local medical personnel provided immediate medical treatment. Mr. Sam was initially taken to a local hospital and shortly thereafter to a Bangor hospital. Mr. Sam died three days later.

Mr. Sam’s blood-alcohol concentration shortly after the encounter with Officer Hafford on May 7 was 0.246%. Dr. Mark Flomenbaum, the state’s chief medical examiner, later determined the cause of Mr. Sam’s death to be three penetrating gunshot wounds that damaged a lung, a kidney, and the liver. Dr. Flomenbaum also noted several incised linear superficial wounds to the front and side of the neck, which he said comprised “hesitation cuts.” He also noted bruises and abrasions consistent with falling.

The 19 citizens who witnessed the encounter between Mr. Sam and Officer Hafford saw Mr. Sam charging at Officer Hafford with the knife. At least two of the witnesses recorded parts of the encounter with their cell phones. The knife was one with a serrated blade that measured 105 mm or 4.13 inches in length.

Conclusion

Attorney General Janet T. Mills concludes that at the time Officer Hafford shot Mr. Sam, he reasonably believed that there was an imminent threat of unlawful deadly force against himself and others. It was reasonable for Officer Hafford to believe it necessary to use deadly force to protect himself and any other persons within range of Mr. Sam and his weapon. The basis for the Attorney General’s conclusions includes interviews with numerous individuals, an extensive forensic investigation, a review of all the evidence available from all sources, and a thorough legal analysis. All facts lead to the conclusion that Officer Hafford acted to defend himself and others from the imminent threat of unlawful use of deadly force by Mr. Sam. It is beyond the scope of this report and beyond the authority and expertise of the Attorney General’s Office to determine with any reasonable certainty Mr. Sam’s motivations, his state of mind, or the psychological underpinnings of his behavior and actions on May 7, 2016.

[1] 5 M.R.S. 200-A.

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