NASHUA — A city police officer who shot a man twice, wounding him during an arrest two months ago has been cleared in the shooting.
On Friday, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office released a five-page document detailing the March 22 incident between Officer Stephen Morrill and Craig Riley, 41, of Nashua.
“Based on all the facts and circumstances known to Officer Morrill at the time he fired his weapon, and examining the situation from the standpoint of an objective police officer in his position, it was reasonable for Officer Morrill to conclude that Riley was about to use deadly force against him,” says the report. “Therefore, Officer Morrill was legally justified in using deadly force against Riley.”
Riley survived the two gunshot wounds — one to his right shoulder and the other to his lower back just above the hip.
While investigating a report of shoplifting incidents at Wal-Mart and Hannaford’s in Bedford, Morrill was in search of a van registered to Riley’s mother. Upon seeing the van pulling into a parking spot at 5 New Haven Drive — a condominium development — Morrill recognized Riley getting out of the van.
According to the report, Morrill told Riley to stop, but Riley allegedly took off running.
A pursuit ensued, and a struggle eventually took place when Morrill “felt Riley’s hand come over and touch Officer Morrill’s gun,” says the document.
Riley allegedly continued to struggle against Morrill before again running away. A second altercation began and the two men wrestled as they moved down the hallway of the apartment building.
Eventually, Riley got control of Morrill’s baton, which had been dropped during the struggle, says the report. When Riley raised the baton in the air and over his head, Morrill believed that Riley was going to hit him on the head, according to the report. Morrill then fired two shots at Riley.
“At the time of the shooting, Officer Morrill was in fear for his life. He specifically thought that Riley was about to strike him in the head with his baton, either killing him or knocking him out, also possibly obtaining Officer Morrill’s firearm which Riley had previously tried to gain control over,” states the attorney general’s report.
Morrill also used pepper spray to get Riley to submit, prior to firing his gun, according to the document.
“He did so only when he felt that his life was in danger, making a split-second decision that he needed to respond to what he reasonably believed was Riley’s imminent use of deadly force as Riley swung at Officer Morrill’s head with the baton,” says the report.
In addition, the attorney general stated that Morrill fired both shots directly down the hall to ensure the safety of other residents within the apartment building.
Riley has since been indicted on 16 felony charges in connection with the incident. His attorney has filed a notice of defense motion at Hillsborough County Superior Court, reserving Riley’s right to a self-defense claim.
“Specifically, (Riley) may present evidence at trial that to the extent that he took any action, he did so reasonably believing his conduct was necessary to defend from what he reasonably believed to be the imminent use of unlawful force by Officer Stephen Morrill,” says court documents.
Riley faces six counts of simple assault with enhanced penalties against a police officer, four counts of resisting arrest or detention, and one charge each of first-degree assault, criminal threatening, attempting to take a gun from a law enforcement officer, being a felon in possession of a dangerous weapon, operating as a certified habitual offender and having heroin.
Riley, was being held on $75,000 cash bail.