Attorney General Finds Biddeford Officer Acted in Self-Defense
June 25, 2009
Attorney General Janet T. Mills has concluded that Biddeford Police Sergeant Jeffrey Greene was legally justified under the Maine Criminal Code when he shot and killed Barbara Stewart, 47, the evening of March 24, 2009, outside her residence on Main Street in Biddeford.
The Attorney General is charged by law with the direction of any criminal investigation of a law enforcement officer who, while acting in the performance of that officer's duties, uses deadly force. The function of the Attorney General’s investigation and review is to determine whether self defense or defense of others as defined in the Criminal Code is reasonably generated on the facts so as to preclude a criminal prosecution.
The review does not include whether there is any civil liability, whether any administrative action is warranted or whether, in hindsight, the use of deadly force was potentially avoidable.
Maine law defines deadly force as physical force that a person uses with the intent of causing, or that a person knows to create a substantial risk of causing, death or serious bodily injury. Under Maine law, for a law enforcement officer to be justified in using deadly force for self defense or the defense of others, two requirements must be met. First, the officer must actually and reasonably believe that unlawful deadly force is imminently threatened against the officer or a third person. Second, the officer must actually and reasonably believe that deadly force is necessary to meet or counter that imminent threat.
The Attorney General’s investigation and analysis concluded that Sgt. Greene actually and reasonably believed that unlawful deadly force was being imminently threatened against him by Ms. Stewart, and that other officers in the immediate vicinity were imminently threatened with death or serious bodily injury by the actions of Ms. Stewart. Further, the investigation determined that Sgt. Greene actually and reasonably believed that deadly force on his part was necessary to counter the imminent threat against himself and others.
The Attorney General reported the following findings from her office's investigation:
On March 24, 2009, at about 7:18 p.m., Barbara Stewart, a resident of 356 Main Street in Biddeford, placed a 911 call to the Biddeford Police Department. She told the dispatcher: “I’m gonna kill myself or somebody else and I have a gun.” When the police dispatcher tried to engage Stewart in further conversation, she terminated the call. Several Biddeford police officers, including Sgt. Greene, immediately responded to the call. About three minutes after the call, Sgt. Greene, Sgt. Philip Greenwood, and Officer Benjamin Sholl, driving separate cruisers, arrived within seconds of one another near Stewart’s home on Main Street. A video camera in Officer Sholl’s cruiser captured the events that followed.
Barbara Stewart was standing on the sidewalk at the base of the stairway leading to the apartment building in which she resided. Sgt. Greene observed Stewart but believed her to be a pedestrian unrelated to the call for service. Sgt. Greene walked toward Stewart. Officer Sholl had parked his cruiser immediately west of the intersection of St. Mary’s Street and Main Street and was still in his cruiser when Greene walked past him. Sgt. Greenwood was on foot a short distance behind Sgt. Greene.
Sgt. Greene, still walking toward the woman and about 30 feet from her, asked her if she was a resident of the apartment house and she responded that she was. By now, Officer Sholl was out of his cruiser, and Sgt. Greenwood was still generally behind Sgt. Greene on the sidewalk. Sgt. Greene, now about 20 feet from the woman, asked her which apartment she lived in. Stewart turned slightly so as to directly face Sgt. Greene, reached into her clothing, and displayed what appeared to Greene and the other officers to be a semi-automatic pistol. Sgt. Greene, while retreating, broadcast on his portable radio that “she’s pointing a gun at me.” It was later determined that this broadcast occurred slightly more than a minute after Greene’s arrival at the location.
All three officers saw Stewart grasp the pistol with two hands and point it directly at Sgt. Greene. All three officers drew their service weapons and began issuing commands for Stewart to drop her gun. Simultaneously, Stewart started walking directly toward Sgt. Greene as Greene and the other two officers sought cover. Sgt. Greenwood retreated close to a building next door, while Officer Sholl was able to retreat back to his cruiser. Sgt. Greene remained focused on Stewart as she advanced on him with the gun pointed directly at him. He first retreated into the street, and then took a stationery position next to a utility pole. Using the pole as partial cover, Sgt. Greene, as well as Officer Sholl and Sgt. Greenwood, issued repeated commands for Stewart to drop her weapon. There were at least 15 such commands. Stewart, still walking toward Greene with the gun pointed at him, responded “no” at least twice to the commands to drop the gun.
When Stewart was within what Sgt. Greene believed was about 10 feet from him, he recalls asking her if the pistol was real and Stewart responding, “It’s ready.” Sgt. Greene also recalls recognizing that Officer Sholl and Sgt. Greenwood were somewhere close behind him. As Stewart, still holding her gun in both hands and pointing it at Greene, advanced even closer to him, Sgt. Greene discharged what would be the first of three rounds at Stewart. The round struck Stewart in her left shoulder. As a result of being shot, Stewart crouched forward and down and her gun struck the sidewalk. Instantaneously, however, she stood upright with the gun in her hand with the muzzle still pointed at Sgt. Greene. At the same time, Sgt. Greene discharged two more rounds in quick succession, the second of which was later determined to have struck Stewart in the upper chest. Later investigation disclosed that Stewart had advanced from about 45 feet of Sgt. Greene to within 9-11 feet of Sgt. Greene when she was shot.
Medical assistance arrived within minutes. Stewart was later pronounced dead at a Biddeford hospital. From the time Sgt. Greene arrived at the location on Main Street to the time he discharged his weapon at Stewart, one minute and 22 seconds elapsed.
The investigation that followed determined that Stewart was armed with a silver and black pellet air pistol designed to shoot .177 caliber pellets. The pistol is similar in appearance and configuration to a semi-automatic pistol. The weapon fired by Sgt. Greene was a .45 caliber pistol. A post-mortem examination by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner revealed that Stewart was struck by two rounds from Sgt. Greene’s gun and that she died as a result of the gunshot wounds. Later investigation also disclosed that Stewart had left a dated handwritten suicide note in her apartment in which she directed the disposition of her belongings.
Detectives from the Attorney General’s Office and the Biddeford Police Department, as well as police forensic specialists, conducted the investigation at the scene. The Biddeford Police Department cooperated fully with the investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, and conducted its own extensive review of the incident.
Contact: Brian MacMaster, Director of Investigations (207) 626-8520