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AG: Combination of factors led to shootout that left Greenland police chief dead

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 14. 2012 9:54PM
New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney discusses the findings of the investigation into the Greenland shootings at a news conference in Concord on Friday. (Bruce Preston / Union Leader)

CONCORD - The committee investigating the fatal shooting of Greenland police Chief Michael Maloney has concluded a combination of factors led to the shootout in April and that a SWAT team should have handled the forced entry into the home of Cullen Mutrie given his violent past.

According to findings released Friday by New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney, there was nothing that could be classified as a primary cause, only a series of unfortunate circumstances and choices that together led to tragedy as a drug task force attempted to execute a search warrant the evening of April 12.

Mutrie was waiting inside, shooting four officers at close range, then later hitting Maloney in the head with a shot fired through a basement window. Investigators concluded Mutrie then fatally shot girlfriend Brittany Tibbetts before turning the gun on himself.

"The purpose of this isn't to isolate any one issue," Delaney said during a news conference at his office.

There were many issues found by the committee Delaney appointed to investigate the shootout. The committee's critiques of the operation included inadequate planning, questionable timing and a lack of clear and written policies for drug task forces to follow.

"This review process was in no way a disciplinary process," Delaney said at the news conference. "This was a process to review what happened, to take lessons learned and to move forward."

The five-member committee included a veteran law enforcement official and an attorney appointed last year as a representative to the state's judiciary on the state Police Standards and Training Council. Their six-month investigation concluded last week when they submitted a lengthy review and list of recommendations to Delaney.

Ultimately, the committee found that members of the task force should have called in a SWAT team once they determined they would need to force their way into the home given the potential danger posed by Mutrie, who had a history of drugs and violent behavior.

"They determined this was a warrant that should have been characterized as high-risk and that would have in best practices called upon for the assistance of a tactical team if they made the decision to do a forcible entry," Delaney said.

Delaney said his office has already addressed that issue by suspending the use of no-knock warrants without the assistance of tactical teams.

The commission said the task force also erred when it went ahead with the entry despite not knowing whether anyone was home, a situation the team members did not address during a strategy briefing earlier that night. The team leader, Detective Scott Kukesh of the Newmarket Police Department, wasn't able to attend the briefing because he was coming from security duty during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden.

The task force also had not obtained the home's interior floor plan and team members put themselves at additional risk on the small porch leading to the home's front door, the committee said.

"The review commission characterized the decision to make a forcible entry as a last-minute plan," Delaney said.

Although the "no knock" warrant authorized forcible entry, two Greenland officers knocked first, hoping to draw Mutrie out of the house and detain him as the task force searched for drugs. There also was an arrest warrant for Tibbetts, charging her with selling controlled drugs.

When there was no answer after knocking several times, the team used a battering ram on the door, which state police said was sturdy and had two locks, including a heavy deadbolt. While attempting to break through the door, an officer shattered a window next to it in order to try and get a look inside the home, which had the shades pulled and lights out. It was too dark to see inside and officers announced themselves several times as police. When the door finally gave way and the officers entered, Mutrie was waiting, poised to open fire with a .357 magnum revolver.

Four officers quickly went down, two of them severely wounded.

Delaney credited Detective Christopher Thurlow of the Newton Police Department with keeping the carnage from being worse. Thurlow, a Marine who had returned from serving in Afghanistan, returned Mutrie's fire, providing cover as he helped one of the wounded off the porch and to safety.

Maloney was on the scene as backup and investigators said he helped lead the wounded officers to safety and then returned to his cruiser for cover. He peered over hood, leaving himself exposed for a moment, and Mutrie opened fire again from a basement window. One of the rounds stuck Maloney in the head, killing him instantly.

Sgt. Joseph Ebert of the New Hampshire State Police detailed the events in a Power Point presentation at Friday's news conference, before Delaney addressed the committee's report. Ebert's presentation included photos taken inside and around the home as investigators broke down the crime scene. One of the photos was particularly chilling, showing the view through the window where Mutrie fired the shot that killed Maloney.

"As unfortunate as it was, the only thing in the field of vision when looking out that window would have been the chief's cruiser," Ebert said.

Ebert also reviewed evidence taken from the home, including cocaine, marijuana, mushrooms and anabolic steroids. He also showed a slide of a text message investigators concluded Tibbetts wrote for her family, saying goodbye and indicating she did not plan to leave the home alive and asking relatives to care for the dog and cat.

Ebert said officers found about $14,000 in cash in Tibbetts' clothing the following morning after police sent in a robot that located the bodies of Mutrie and Tibbetts in the basement. An autopsy determined Mutrie killed Tibbets, then himself, dying with the semi-automatic pistol in his lap.

The autopsy also found both to have evidence of drug use in their system.

Mutrie was on a personal recognizance bail at the time of the shooting and facing felony drug charges in Rockingham Superior Court. Under the terms of his bail and a domestic violence restraining order, he was prohibited from possessing firearms.

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