Attorney General Releases Report on Use of Deadly Force by Lewiston Police Officers on December 1, 2009

February 22, 2010


CONTACT: Kate Simmons, (207) 626-8577

Attorney General?s Report on Use of Deadly Force by Lewiston Police Officers on December 1, 2009

AUGUSTA - Attorney General Janet T. Mills has concluded that two Lewiston police officers, Raymond Vega and Keith Caouette, acted in self-defense when they shot at Kristy Lee Cookson, age 28, the evening of December 1, 2009, in Lewiston. The incident resulted in Cookson being struck and wounded by a single gunshot.

The Attorney General is charged by law with investigating any law enforcement officer who uses deadly force while acting in the performance of that officer's duties. The function of the Attorney General?s investigation is to determine whether self-defense or defense of others, as defined in the Maine Criminal Code, is reasonably generated on the facts so as to preclude criminal prosecution. The review does not include whether there might be any civil liability, whether any administrative action is warranted, or whether the use of deadly force could have been avoided at all costs.

Under Maine law, for an individual to be justified in using deadly force in self-defense or in the defense of others, two requirements must be met: First, the individual must reasonably believe that deadly force is imminently threatened against the individual or against someone else and, second, the individual must reasonably believe that deadly force is necessary to counter that imminent threat.

The Attorney General?s investigation concluded that Officers Vega and Caouette reasonably believed that deadly force was imminently threatened by Ms. Cookson against them. Further, Attorney General Mills concluded that both officers reasonably believed it was necessary to use deadly force to protect themselves from that imminent threat.

In addition, a law enforcement officer is allowed to use deadly force to effect an arrest when the officer reasonably believes that the person has committed a crime involving the use or threatened use of deadly force or that the person is likely to seriously endanger human life or inflict serious bodily injury unless apprehended without delay.

The Attorney General?s investigation and analysis concluded that Officers Vega and Caouette reasonably believed that unlawful deadly force was imminently threatened by Ms. Cookson against others and that the officers reasonably believed that deadly force was necessary to protect others from the imminent threat of deadly force. The Attorney General?s investigation also determined that Officers Vega and Caouette reasonably believed that Ms. Cookson had committed crimes involving the use or threatened use of deadly force, that she was likely to seriously endanger human life unless apprehended without delay and that Ms. Cookson knew that Officers Vega and Caouette were law enforcement officers attempting to arrest her.

The Attorney General reported the following findings:

On December 1, 2009, at approximately 5:35 p.m., Lewiston police officer Raymond Vega was on patrol in Lewiston. He was in uniform and driving a marked police cruiser. Officer Vega observed a Chevy pickup truck stopped ahead of him on Howard Street at its intersection with Walnut Street. The truck caught the officer?s attention because it remained stopped at the intersection for a long period of time with no traffic on Walnut Street. Upon determining who the registered owner of the vehicle was, Officer Vega recognized the truck as being one that he had stopped about a week earlier, when he arrested Kristy Lee Cookson for operating under the influence.

Without signaling, the pickup truck made a right turn onto Walnut Street and Officer Vega followed it. The truck then made an abrupt turn onto Horton Street, again without signaling, this time jumping a curb. Officer Vega activated his cruiser?s blue lights to stop the vehicle. The vehicle did not stop, however, even after Officer Vega honked his horn and shined his spotlight on the driver. Instead, the vehicle increased its speed and then attempted to elude Officer Vega.

Radioing dispatch to report the pursuit, Officer Vega observed the vehicle continue at a high rate of speed through several urban residential and downtown streets, driving around construction zones and over sidewalks, disregarding stop signs, crosswalks, traffic lights and speed bumps, and driving the wrong way on a major one-way street (1). The vehicle continued to Central Avenue, at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour, and failed to stop at the stop sign at the Montello Street intersection.

The pickup truck was gaining distance on Officer Vega until it failed to negotiate a right hand curve on Central Avenue and skidded off the road into a small parking lot of an apartment house and crashed into a parked vehicle. The impact of the crash pushed the parked vehicle into the driver?s side of a second parked vehicle, which in turn pushed the second vehicle into a third parked vehicle.

The crash resulted in the front end of the pickup truck being lodged into the driver?s side of the parked vehicle. As Officer Vega got out of his cruiser, the driver of the pickup truck, later identified as Kristy Lee Cookson, attempted to dislodge the truck. As she tried several times to back away, Officer Vega ran to the driver?s side of the truck, pointed his handgun at the driver and ordered her to stop. At this point, Officer Vega was on foot about four to five feet between the truck and the apartment building. Cookson looked directly at Officer Vega but ignored his commands to stop. Instead, Cookson repeatedly attempted to drive forward and backwards, turning the wheel left and right in an attempt to dislodge the truck from the other vehicle. Officer Vega banged his hand on the closed window, ordering Cookson to stop. Officer Vega described Cookson?s actions to flee the scene as ?frantic.? Officer Vega then noticed the arrival of another officer, Keith Caouette, near the rear of the pickup truck.

As the vehicle was backing up and beginning to dislodge from the crash, Officer Vega fired two rounds from his sidearm into the left front tire in an attempt to disable the vehicle. The pickup truck successfully dislodged from the other vehicle, however, and backed up rapidly as Officer Vega moved in front of and between five and ten feet from the vehicle. Recognizing that Officer Caouette was in the path of the moving vehicle, Officer Vega fired another round at the truck as it was backing up. He heard at least two other rounds discharge, and he fired two more rounds at the driver (2). The truck continued to speed backwards striking a stand of small trees which prevented it from going backwards down a sharp embankment.

Not recognizing at that point that any of the rounds fired by Officers Vega or Caouette had actually struck the driver, Officer Vega holstered his sidearm and ran to the driver?s side of the truck. The driver?s door window was shattered. Officer Vega ordered Cookson from the vehicle, but she ignored him and kept revving the engine, trying to flee the scene in the pickup truck. When Officer Vega attempted to open the door, he found it locked. He reached into the vehicle and grabbed Cookson, but she physically resisted his attempts to remove her from the vehicle. At that point, Officer Caouette used a TASER to temporarily immobilize Cookson, and she was arrested. It was at this point that it was discovered that Cookson had been shot in the neck. She was given medical aid at the scene and transported to a local hospital where she was treated and released for the single gunshot wound.

The investigation determined that the route of the pursuit measured about two-and-a-half miles and less than four minutes elapsed from the time Officer Vega initially attempted to stop Cookson until the time she was taken into custody. The investigation also determined that Officer Vega fired five rounds at the pickup truck and Officer Caouette fired three rounds (3).

The scene investigation disclosed results that were consistent with the officers? accounts as well as with several witness accounts of the incident. Crash reconstruction determined that Cookson lost control of the pickup truck on the Central Avenue curve and that the truck skidded out-of-control 140 feet across a lawn and into the parking lot of the apartment building before crashing into the parked vehicle (4). The investigation also showed that Cookson?s vehicle was travelling 81 miles per hour five seconds before hitting the parked vehicle and that the braking system was engaged and remained engaged for five seconds before impact. The speed of the pickup truck one second before hitting the parked vehicle was 30 miles per hour.

Cookson was charged by the Androscoggin County District Attorney with eluding a police officer, reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon, unlawful possession of a narcotic drug, operating under the influence, driving to endanger, and violation of bail conditions.

Detectives from the Attorney General?s Office went to the scene of the shooting to conduct an investigation. They were assisted by the Lewiston Police Department and the State Police. The Lewiston Police Department cooperated fully with the investigation and conducted its own internal review of the incident.

(1) A second officer, Keith Caouette, who observed parts of the pursuit, estimated the pickup truck?s speed near Bates College, where several pedestrians were standing on a sidewalk near a crosswalk, at 80 miles per hour.

(2) The gunshots heard by Officer Vega were rounds fired by Officer Caouette who, for his part, feared that both he and Officer Vega were going to be run over or pinned against the apartment building by the pickup truck in Cookson?s repeated attempts to flee the scene in the truck.

(3) Later investigation determined that it was one of Officer Caouette?s rounds that struck Cookson in the neck.

(4) This vehicle was found with the engine running after the crash. Investigation revealed that the driver had just returned from shopping and was in the process of unloading items. Just prior to the crash, she had taken some of the items into her apartment.