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Judge to rule on suit brought by family of woman killed by trooper in 2013

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 07. 2017 8:40PM
The family of Wendy Lawrence, shot by a state trooper in Manchester in 2013, has filed a wrongful death suit. (Courtesy)

CONCORD — A federal judge heard arguments Monday on whether a civil lawsuit should proceed against a New Hampshire State Police trooper who fatally shot a woman in her car after a police chase.

The estate of Wendy Lawrence contends that Trooper Chad Lavoie unnecessarily used deadly force when he shot her at a Manchester intersection the night of Sept. 30, 2013.

The lawsuit challenges findings in an investigation by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, which said Lavoie was justified in concluding he was at risk of being run over by Lawrence after blocking her car with his cruiser.

Lavoie said Lawrence, who was unarmed, had rammed his cruiser and was driving at him — statements disputed in the lawsuit.

Judge Paul Barbadoro heard arguments in U.S. District Court on a motion for summary judgement filed by attorneys representing Lavoie, who was cleared of criminal wrongdoing.

Barbadoro said he hopes to decide by the end of the month or early September whether the case should go forward.

Karen Schlitzer, a senior assistant attorney general leading Lavoie’s defense, said state investigators have already found Lavoie had not committed any criminal wrongdoing and that he had sufficiently established the danger Lawrence presented behind the wheel.

Chuck Douglas, a Manchester attorney representing Lawrence’s family, said Lavoie would not have been at risk had he remained behind his cruiser and said Lavoie’s own statements to investigators did not support justification of the shooting.

Douglas questioned the amount of time it would have taken Lavoie to get out of the cruiser and circle around to a position in front of Lawrence’s car before firing 11 rounds into the windshield.

According to the state, about four seconds elapsed.

“We’re well into four or five seconds here,” Douglas said. “There is a lot of stuff happening.”

Schlitzer argued that the state had already established Lavoie had little time to react.

“There was no time to reassess the situation,” Schlitzer said. “It was a split-second decision.”

Douglas also stated there was no reason for Lavoie’s actions because the pursuit had ceased to be a “chase” long before it reached the corner of Dave Street and Kennard Road in Manchester.

Lawrence was initially pulled over by a state trooper on Interstate 89 at 6:20 p.m., then drove off after providing her identification to the trooper.

State police pursued the car from I-89 to southbound I-93, following her into Manchester at Exit 9S. Although troopers continued to follow her, Lawrence drove at normal speeds after she left the highway; the chase had ended by the time Lavoie arrived.

Lawrence, 45, had a history of drug, assault and motor-vehicle charges, and she had been driving with a suspended license.

The suit seeks $2 million in wrongful death damages, as well as unspecified compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney fees. Schlitzer has said the state will take responsibility for any monetary verdict against Lavoie.

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