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Attorney General's Report on the Use of Deadly Force by State Police Trooper on December 17, 2009
April 19, 2010
AUGUSTA - Attorney General Janet T. Mills has concluded that a State Police trooper, Corey Smith, acted within the law when he shot Matthew Sylvester, 24, during the early morning of December 17, 2009, in Searsport. The incident resulted in Sylvester 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, or other legal justification 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. In addition, a law enforcement officer is allowed to use deadly force to effect an arrest or prevent an escape when the officer reasonably believes that a person has committed a crime involving the use or threatened the 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 Trooper Smith reasonably believed that unlawful deadly force was imminently threatened by Mr. Sylvester against others, including a second officer, Sgt. Steven Saucier of the Searsport Police Department, and that Trooper Smith reasonably believed that deadly force was necessary to protect others from such imminent threat of deadly force. The Attorney General’s investigation also determined that Trooper Smith reasonably believed that Mr. Sylvester had committed a crime involving the use of deadly force, and that he was likely to seriously endanger human life unless apprehended without delay.
The Attorney General reported the following findings:
On Thursday, December 17, 2009, at 2:21 a.m., a 911 caller reported that Matthew Sylvester had shot Richard Brown several times outside a vehicle near the North Searsport Fire Department. The caller was hysterical and requested immediate help. The caller reported that Sylvester was still present at the scene and was armed with a .40 caliber Glock pistol. The caller was heard demanding that Sylvester give him the gun. While dispatching police to the scene, it was learned from the caller that Sylvester had left the scene in the company of a woman in a red Jeep.
About six minutes after the initial 911 report, Trooper Corey Smith was dispatched from his home to the call. At the time, Trooper Smith was told that a man had been shot and the victim and suspect, who still had a gun, were at the scene. Trooper Smith received additional information while responding to the scene that included the names of people involved, and that Sylvester was in possession of a Glock handgun. Trooper Smith also learned that Sylvester had left the scene in a red Jeep and was possibly going to a residence in Frankfort where Sylvester would have access to a 1994 red Ford Thunderbird.
Trooper Smith drove to the residence in Frankfort. He did not locate either the red Jeep or the red Thunderbird. He did, however, speak with two individuals in a nearby residence, who told him that they believed Sylvester had left about 10 minutes before Trooper Smith’s arrival. The individuals told Trooper Smith that Sylvester left “spinning his tires.” The individuals provided Trooper Smith with vague information about the location of the Searsport residence of Sylvester’s father. While speaking with these individuals at their residence, the person who had made the initial 911 call of the shooting in North Searsport called the residence and spoke with Trooper Smith. The caller told Trooper Smith that he was present when Sylvester, who had been drinking, shot Brown “four or five times.” Trooper Smith also learned at this time that when Sylvester left the shooting scene that he was in the company of a woman in a red Jeep who lived in Belfast.
Based on the information received from the individuals in Frankfort and the call from the 911 reporter, Trooper Smith radioed other officers that Sylvester was likely either in the company of the woman in the red Jeep or at his father’s residence in Searsport. Trooper Smith then learned that the woman and the red Jeep had been located at the woman’s residence in Belfast and that Sylvester was not with her. Trooper Smith set out to search for the red Thunderbird. About an hour had elapsed since the initial 911 call.
Trooper Smith, joined by Searsport police sergeant Steven Saucier, went to the home of Sylvester’s father in Searsport. They observed the residence to be located several hundred feet from the street. They decided to use the cover of darkness to approach the house on foot. The officers could see lights on in the house. As they approached the house, the officers observed a truck and a maroon Ford Thunderbird in the driveway. Trooper Smith noticed lights “flicker” in the house. Concerned that he and Sergeant Saucier had been seen, the officers retreated a few feet and took up a position of concealment behind a large tree. Both officers called their respective agencies to report that they had located the red Ford Thunderbird. The officers decided to wait for additional officers before attempting contact with Matthew Sylvester.
Sergeant Saucier returned to his cruiser several hundred feet away to get his patrol rifle and hand warmers. Trooper Smith moved to a location that provided him a better view of the house. He observed an upstairs light go off. Trooper Smith then heard what he believed to be someone walking in the snow near the outside of the house. He heard a car door close. Suspecting that Sylvester had entered the parked car, Trooper Smith yelled a warning to Sergeant Saucier. Trooper Smith watched as someone started the red Thunderbird, illuminated the headlights, backed up the car, and started driving down the driveway toward his location. Trooper Smith yelled a second warning to Sgt. Saucier. As the red Thunderbird approached him, Trooper Smith, who was now standing in the driveway, illuminated the vehicle with his flashlight and observed the driver as the only occupant.
As the vehicle got closer, Trooper Smith identified himself and ordered the driver to stop. Instead of stopping or slowing, however, the vehicle accelerated slightly. Trooper Smith gave another command of “State Police, stop!” but the driver was not responsive. As the vehicle continued unabated down the driveway, Trooper Smith moved slightly to avoid being struck by the vehicle. The vehicle turned slightly to the right as if to drive by Trooper Smith. As the vehicle was abreast of Trooper Smith, Trooper Smith, with the aid of his flashlight, could see that the driver was holding a black handgun, which he recognized from his training and experience as a Glock pistol, pointed toward the center console of the car. At this point, Trooper Smith was approximately three feet from the driver’s door of the car. Trooper Smith fired two rounds from his handgun at the driver. The vehicle came to a stop and the driver screamed, “You shot me.” Trooper Smith ordered the driver to show his hands and the driver stuck them out of the window. Trooper Smith then ordered the driver out of the car. The driver opened the door and did as requested. The driver identified himself as Matthew Sylvester and said that his gun was in the car. Officers provided first aid to Sylvester until the arrival of emergency medical personnel who treated him and transported him to a hospital. At the hospital, Sylvester was treated for a gunshot wound to the upper left arm and released.
On February 11, 2010, the Waldo County Grand Jury indicted Sylvester on charges related to the alleged shooting on December 17, 2009, of Richard Brown in North Searsport. Brown survived the shooting.
Detectives from the Attorney General’s Office went to the scene of the shooting to conduct an investigation into the use of deadly force by Trooper Smith. They were assisted by the State Police. The State Police cooperated fully with the investigation and conducted its own internal review of the incident.
Contact: Kate Simmons (207) 626-8577