Secrecy common in officer shootings
WEARE - A New Hampshire police chief who previously served as an officer in Weare believes the officers involved in a fatal shooting last week will be found to have acted properly, but it could be awhile before official word is released.
The secrecy that typically shrouds such shootings can cause frustration, but police from across the state say the whole story eventually comes out.
Brookline Police Chief William Quigley, who served in Weare prior to taking the helm in Brookline, said: "You don't shoot anybody that's not posing an immediate threat. I find it highly unbelievable that the Weare officers fired without justification."
On Wednesday night, an undercover drug operation by the Weare Police Department somehow went wrong, authorities said. When the suspect fled the parking lot of the Dunkin' Donuts where the sting was taking place, two officers shot at him as a chase ensued. A crash then occurred involving two police vehicles, the suspected drug dealer's car and a vehicle parked by the side of the road, authorities said. The alleged dealer died of his injuries.
Information yet to be released includes the names of the officers and that of the suspect.
Standard protocol in police departments throughout New Hampshire as well as state law restrict use of deadly force. According to RSA 627:5, an officer is justified in using deadly force only when it is reasonable to believe that it's necessary in order to defend the officer or a third party.
Jeffery Strelzin, senior assistant attorney general, said officer-involved shootings don't get special treatment.
"We investigate them like we do all homicide cases. We secure the scene, speak to witnesses, collect evidence, do forensic testing as needed and if possible, and then apply the law to the facts to reach a determination," he said in an email last week.
After an officer-involved shooting, it is standard protocol for the officer or officers to be immediately placed on paid administrative leave while the incident is investigated.
The two Weare officers who were involved in last week's shooting are on leave and won't return until the investigation is completed, said Sgt. Joe Kelley, who referred all questions about the shooting to the Attorney General's Office.
That period between when a shooting occurs and when the investigation is completed can be frustrating for officers, said Hillsborough Police Chief David Roarick, because there's only a limited amount of information released to the public in the early stages. In 2011, two Hillsborough police officers shot and killed Shelly D. Naroian when she brandished a weapon during an altercation.
"These events happen in less than a couple of seconds, and those seconds are analyzed by ... people for weeks, even months to determine that force was justified," he said. "Every question under the sun comes up."
But it's not until those findings are made public, after the investigation is completed, that the true nature of the incident can be made clear, said Roarick.
"The level of detail out there (initially) can't be the whole story in order to protect all of the parties involved, including the person who was shot," he said. "It's only fair that when the information is released, it's right."
But Roarick added that it's tough for officers to read comments or see media reports that don't tell the entire story.
"It's frustrating when you know what the truth is and you hear other things that are inaccurate, but you can't say anything because it could jeopardize the investigation," he said. "But I guess it's just the nature of the beast. It's the way it has to be to be fair to everybody."
It is expected to take weeks before the investigation of the Weare shooting is released, according to Senior Assistant Attorney General Susan Morrell.
Every year, police officers are required to attend a four-hour training session regarding the use of deadly force, said Capt. Benjamin Jean of the Police Standards and Training Council.
"It's important for them to understand the law and how it applies," said Jean, "because an officer only has seconds to decide whether to use his weapon or not."
And sometimes not even seconds, said Chief Alex Scott of Claremont, where an officer-involved shooting in 2008 resulted in the death of Anthony Jarvis, who shot Trooper Phillip Gaiser during an altercation in Jarvis' trailer. The Attorney General's Office found that Gaiser's actions were appropriate.
Scott said the decision to shoot someone has a long-lasting effect on an officer, whether the person they shoot lives or dies.
"It's a life-altering event," he said. "In the incident in Claremont, the officers involved were in counseling for a very long time."
"Police officers are not in this job to hurt people," said Roarick, Hillsborough's chief. "We sign up for this job because we want to help people. So it is a difficult thing when we have to make the decision to take another life. Even if it's a bad guy, it's still a human being."
The use of deadly force is relatively rare, said Deputy Chief Rene Kelley of the Durham Police Department. Kelley said that an incident in Lee on Dec. 3, 2012, in which two Durham officers fired on Steven Amazeen, was the first time in the department's history that an officer had to discharge his weapon in the line of duty.
In Durham, Kelley said, there was both an internal investigation and an investigation by the Attorney General's Office.
"We offer them counseling if they are inclined to go along with that," he added, "and prior to returning to work, they have to be cleared through a department-chosen mental health professional to be sure they are mentally prepared to come back to work."