AUGUSTA – The attorney general has found a Waldoboro police officer’s use of deadly force justified in the Sept. 23 fatal shooting of a suspect.
Attorney General Steven Rowe said Friday that police officer Zachary Curtis, 24, was legally justified when he shot and killed Gregori S. Jackson, 18, during a confrontation after a traffic stop in Waldoboro.
An attorney representing Jackson’s family wasn’t happy with the report, characterizing it as “long on simply accepting what the officer says happened and short on any real forensic analysis.”
Augusta attorney Roger Katz, representing Jackson’s father, Millard Jackson of Whitefield, said Friday afternoon that “until we have a chance to review the autopsy report, the ballistics and other similar evidence, we really haven’t learned much of anything.”
Rowe said Friday that, based on the investigation and the legal analysis conducted by his office, he concluded Officer Curtis actually and reasonably believed that Jackson imminently threatened unlawful deadly force against Curtis, who was attempting to take Jackson into custody.
Curtis also believed deadly force on his part was necessary to protect himself from the imminent threat of deadly force, Rowe determined.
Under Maine law, both requirements had to be met to justify the officer’s use of deadly force. The 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.
According to the report, the incident began at about 2:15 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 23, when Curtis pulled over a vehicle that he had observed weaving and crossing the centerline on Friendship Road in Waldoboro.
During the traffic stop, Curtis tried to arrest Jackson for violating a bail condition that prohibited him from drinking. Jackson reportedly resisted being handcuffed and began fighting with Curtis, who said he deployed pepper spray, which only served to anger Jackson.
There were two teenagers in the car with Jackson when Curtis pulled the vehicle over. All three occupants had gone out in the car around midnight at Jackson’s request because he wanted to buy a pack of cigarettes, the report says.
The two minors, who remained in the car during the altercation, said they heard Jackson say, “I’m down, I’m down, I’m down, I’m sorry,” or, “I give up.” Curtis said he does not recall hearing Jackson say that, the report says.
Curtis said that Jackson took a swing at him before breaking free and running into nearby woods.
Curtis gave chase and when he caught up to Jackson, struggled with him in the woods. It was during the second altercation, with Jackson on top of Curtis, that Jackson was shot while trying to choke Curtis with a forearm across his throat, according to the officer.
Curtis told investigators he believed that if Jackson got hold of the officer’s gun, he himself would be “a dead man.”
Curtis’ first shot struck Jackson’s left side, but the gunshot failed to slow Jackson down, and he continued to strike Curtis in the head, the officer reported.
Curtis fired a second shot into what he believed was Jackson’s back. The suspect continued to strike Curtis, but with not as much force, the officer reported. Curtis was able to get Jackson off him with a third shot. Jackson ceased moving, according to the report.
Deputy Sheriff Henry Grenier of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department, who soon arrived on the scene, found Curtis on his knees, appearing out of breath and disheveled.
Jackson was pronounced dead at the scene.
Katz, the Jackson family attorney, said Friday that he would need time to digest and evaluate the report’s content.
“But today represents the beginning of the inquiry of this senseless death, not the end,” he said.
“How am I supposed to tell Greg’s family they should have confidence in this report?” Katz asked rhetorically.
In September, Katz said he believed officer inexperience played a major role in the shooting. Curtis was a reserve officer who has served with Waldoboro police since February 2006.
Rowe’s report did not address the officer’s experience.
On Friday, Waldoboro Police Chief Bill Labombarde, who was hired by the department after the shooting, said that at his request, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department would conduct an independent investigation for Waldoboro.
“He was, and is, on paid administrative leave until this investigation is completed,” Labombarde said of Curtis.
George Chappell may be reached at email@example.com or 236-4598.
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