FINDINGS OF THE AG REGARDING THE INVESTIGATION OF THE USE BY POLICE OF DEADLY FORCE
February 19, 2003
FEBRUARY 7, 2003
CHARLES DOW, SPECIAL ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
Attorney General Steven Rowe announced today that a Lincoln County deputy sheriff, Detective Sergeant Jason Pease, 27, was legally justified when he shot at Michael L. Montagna, 45, in a vehicle in Jefferson the evening of December 25, 2002.
The Attorney General's investigation focused on the issue of whether the use of deadly force by Sgt. Pease in the particular situation was legally justified. The Attorney General is required by law to review all occurrences in which a law enforcement officer uses deadly force in the performance of the officer's duty.
Under Maine law, for a law enforcement officer to be justified in using deadly force for purposes of self-protection, two requirements must be met. First, the officer must actually and reasonably believe that unlawful deadly force is imminently threatened against the officer. Second, the officer must actually and reasonably believe that the officer's use of deadly force is necessary to meet or counter that imminent threat. (Maine law defines deadly force as physical force that a person uses with the intent of causing, or which the person knows to create a substantial risk of causing, death or serious bodily injury. With respect to a firearm, intentionally or recklessly discharging a firearm at a moving vehicle is also deadly force under Maine law.)
Attorney General Rowe determined that, based on his office's investigation and legal analysis, Sgt. Pease actually and reasonably believed that unlawful deadly force had been used seconds previously by Michael Montagna against him, and that Montagna continued to pose an imminent threat of further unlawful deadly force against him. The investigation and legal analysis also determined that Sgt. Pease actually and reasonably believed that deadly force on his part was necessary to protect himself from death or serious bodily injury. Therefore, both requirements of law having been met, the use of deadly force by Sgt. Pease was legally justified.
The Attorney General reported the following findings from his office's investigation:
On December 25, 2002, Detective Sergeant Jason Pease of the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office was on a day off. Early in the evening, however, Sgt. Pease left his home in Jefferson to respond to a nearby traffic accident as a member of the Jefferson Volunteer Fire Department. Because of a severe snowstorm, other police units were busy with unrelated accidents and Pease offered to cover the investigation of the accident. After having concluded his investigation, Pease returned home.
Later, while at home, Sgt. Pease received a telephone call from a Lincoln County sheriff's dispatcher. The call was received at about 8 p.m. The dispatcher asked Sgt. Pease to respond to a call from an elderly man on the Gardiner Road (Route 126) in Jefferson, who had called the Sheriff's Office to report a suspicious incident involving a man who had appeared on foot at the elderly man's residence asking to use a telephone. The man was allowed inside the residence to access the phone. While in the residence, the man's statements about being drugged and his demeanor frightened the residents. The man, after identifying himself as Michael Montagna and speaking with a Lincoln County sheriff's dispatcher, left the residence and ran off down the driveway taking with him the homeowner's cordless telephone. The dispatcher was unsuccessful in persuading Montagna to return to the residence to await a deputy sheriff and to maintain telephone contact with the dispatcher. The Lincoln County sheriff's dispatcher radioed Sgt. Pease a physical description of Montagna and told Sgt. Pease that he appeared to be emotionally disturbed.
While on his way to the residence, Sgt. Pease was notified by the dispatcher that Montagna was at another residence on the Gardiner Road in Jefferson. Sgt. Pease drove up to that residence in a four-wheel-drive Lincoln County sheriff's unmarked vehicle. He observed through a window in the residence a man who fit the general description the dispatcher had given him. The man was standing inside the residence talking with a resident of the home. Sgt. Pease entered the residence and asked Montagna to step outside onto the porch so he could talk with him. Montagna was asked for identification and, not being able to find his driver's license, handed Sgt. Pease a business card. Montagna told Sgt. Pease that he was sick and needed help and wanted to go to the police station. Because of the severe driving conditions caused by the snowstorm, Sgt. Pease informed Montagna that he would not drive him to the sheriff's office in Wiscasset, but that he would take him to a hospital in Augusta. Montagna told Sgt. Pease that he wanted to go to the hospital because he needed help. Montagna told Sgt. Pease that he thought that he had been drugged and that people were out to get him.
During the brief discussion between Montagna and Sgt. Pease, Montagna became agitated for no apparent reason, bounded from the porch deck, and ran down the driveway towards the Gardiner Road. Sgt. Pease, concerned about Montagna's condition, particularly in view of the stormy night, ran after Montagna and, upon catching up to him, reached out and grabbed him. This contact caused both of them to slip in the snow and fall to the ground. They both immediately got to their feet. More conversation ensued about Sgt. Pease's offer to take Montagna to a hospital. Sgt. Pease became increasingly concerned over Montagna's demeanor, which alternated between anxiety and calm. Montagna insisted at one point on going back into the private residence to retrieve his driver's license. Sgt. Pease, not wanting Montagna to go back into the residence, told Montagna that he would get the license for him and then he would take him to the hospital in Augusta. Seemingly more cooperative at that point, Montagna, describing himself as hot, began picking up handfuls of snow and applying the snow to his face. At that time, Montagna was standing about six feet from Sgt. Pease; he was between Sgt. Pease and the police vehicle. Without leaving his position, Sgt. Pease spoke with the residents of the house, and learned that they did not have Montagna's driver license, but a business card Montagna had given them.
While Sgt. Pease was conversing with the residents of the house, Montagna suddenly bolted for the police vehicle, which was running. Sgt. Pease gave chase and arrived at the vehicle just after Montagna got into the driver's seat and closed the door. Sgt. Pease immediately opened the driver's door. Montagna was revving the engine, but the vehicle was not moving when Sgt. Pease opened the door. Sgt. Pease grabbed Montagna while telling him repeatedly to get out of the vehicle. Montagna placed the vehicle in reverse and rapidly accelerated. The vehicle's tires initially spun on the snow and ice from the rapid acceleration, but quickly acquired traction. As the vehicle took off in reverse down the driveway towards the Gardiner Road, Sgt. Pease ran alongside it, still attempting to pull Montagna out. At some point, the driver's door struck Sgt. Pease in the back, knocking him to the ground. While not determined if the front left tire of the vehicle ran over Sgt. Pease's leg or if instead the running board of the vehicle struck his leg, Sgt. Pease was dragged for a distance of about 50 feet. The vehicle, moving rapidly in reverse, spun to the left toward a ditch and this spinning movement caused Sgt. Pease to be released from the vehicle. Sgt. Pease came to rest laying on his right side in the snow in front of the vehicle.
Montagna, switching from reverse to forward gear, started driving the vehicle towards Sgt. Pease, who lay on the ground in the snow unable to get to his feet or out of the path of the vehicle. As the vehicle started towards him, Sgt. Pease, fearing that he was going to be run over, discharged three rounds from his service weapon at the approaching vehicle. The vehicle was about 20 feet from Sgt. Pease at this time. As soon as the rounds were discharged, Montagna placed the vehicle in reverse, managed to get the vehicle turned around, and drove off heading toward Jefferson on the Gardiner Road.
An alert for the stolen Lincoln County sheriff's vehicle was broadcast and the vehicle, disabled with Montagna sitting in it, was found about a half-hour later a few miles away on Route 215. A State Police trooper arrested Montagna without incident. Montagna was first taken to a hospital for evaluation and then booked at the Lincoln County Jail in Wiscasset. It was later determined that the vehicle became disabled when its transmission cooling system failed as a result of one of Sgt. Pease's shots at the vehicle. At least two of the three shots had struck the front of the vehicle.
Sgt. Pease was treated at an Augusta hospital for a severely injured knee and lacerations to his lower back and hands, and contusions. He remains on medical leave recuperating from the knee injury. The Lincoln County Sheriff's Office cooperated fully with the investigation and it is conducting its own departmental review of the shooting incident.