Editor's Note: The following editorial by News and Sentinel of Colebrook Publisher Karen Harrigan initially ran in that newspaper last week. It reflects, as only that hometown newspaper could, on the...
The fatal shooting of a Canterbury woman by a state police trooper in a Manchester neighborhood was a justified use of deadly force because the trooper who fired off 11 rounds from his .45 caliber Smith and Wesson pistol feared she was going to run him down, according to a report released Tuesday by the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office.
Trooper Chad Lavoie was either four feet, as he maintains, or 10 to 30 feet away, as other witnesses say, from the boxed-in Monte Carlo being driven by Wendy Lawrence, 45, when she accelerated in his direction Sept. 30.
He emptied his gun into her windshield. Four shots hit Lawrence; a bullet to her chest killed her, according to an autopsy performed by Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Andrew.
"Are you kidding me?" said an incredulous Charles Peter of Warner, Lawrence's boyfriend, when told of the finding. "This is unbelievable. There is no way shooting an unarmed woman is justified."
Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery A. Strelzin confirmed Tuesday that Lawrence — a habitual offender whose license was suspended and who had a criminal record — had no firearms or other weapons, other than her car.
Attorney Richard J. Lehmann of Concord represents Lawrence's family, which includes her mother, two sons and a grandchild. Lehmann said there is nothing in the report that "justifies the trooper unloading 11 rounds into the windshield of that car and Ms. Lawrence in light of the degree of risk she posed while sitting in a vehicle that was pinned in by police."
He said, if anything, the report raises more questions than it answers, such as why didn't the other troopers feel compelled to fire their weapons and why Lavoie didn't move out of the path of the Monte Carlo; other troopers estimated it was moving at 10 mph.
Lavoie has been involved in two other officer-involved deadly force incidents. The first was on May 7, 2011, and involved a 37-hour standoff in Manchester between police and James Breton, 50. Lavoie did not fire his weapon in that incident; Breton was shot dead by state trooper Gerard Ditolla.
Lavoie was one of several other officers who shot and killed an armed suspect during a confrontation in Pelham on Oct. 22, 2011.
Both of those shootings were found to be justified uses of deadly force by the officers.
Spike strips fail
The Sept. 30 shooting happened about 6:20 p.m. at the intersection of Kennard Road and Dave Street in the North End of Manchester. Lawrence was pulled over about 6 p.m. by Trooper Kevin Leblanc for driving erratically on I-89 southbound around mile marker eight.
Lawrence told the trooper she had a valid license, but did not have it with her. Leblanc noticed a non-driver license in the car and asked to see it. As he ran her record, and learned she was a habitual offender and that her license was suspended, Lawrence drove off and headed south toward Concord. Leblanc pursued her and soon came upon the Monte Carlo sideways in the road. Lawrence quickly sped off, almost hitting a person, who is not identified in the report.
She proceeded onto I-93 south where Leblanc and two other troopers pursued her in a chase that reached speeds of 90 mph.
Lawrence took Exit 9S off I-93, heading into Manchester. By then, state police headquarters had called off the pursuit and the troopers turned off their sirens and blue lights, but continued to follow the Monte Carlo as it drove at about 25 mph through the city.
At the intersection of Dave Street and Kennard Road, however, Lavoie — who was on duty on an interstate (the report does not give his exact location) heard the radio transmission about the pursuit and two troopers saying they were going to deploy spike strips. He then heard someone say the attempt was unsuccessful.
He continued north on the highway, intending to set up his spike strips in the area of Exit 7, but heard that the Monte Carlo had taken Exit 9S. Lavoie turned off his blue lights when the pursuit was called off, but continued north on the highway.
Lavoie took Exit 8 and headed toward the intersection with Mammoth Road. He heard other troopers call out the name of a road and punched it into his GPS and realized it was close by. He drove down Mammoth Road to the intersection with Kennard Road where he saw the Monte Carlo with a cruiser following behind it.
He decided to box in the Monte Carlo, according to the report. He stopped his cruiser, put it into park and got out to arrest Lawrence. The report states Lawrence drove forward and rammed into the side of his cruiser. Lavoie ran to the back of his cruiser, taking his handgun out of its holster as he did.
'Stop the car'
Lavoie stood facing the front of the Monte Carlo, yelling over and over again, "Stop the car!" Lavoie said he could see Lawrence through the windshield and that she looked "determined," not afraid.
After hitting Lavoie's cruiser, the Monte Carlo backed up and hit the cruiser in back of it, the report says. Lavoie continued yelling at the driver to stop, but instead, she put the Monte Carlo into drive, turned the wheel to the left in the direction of Lavoie and started to move forward.
"Trooper Lavoie believed that the driver was not going to hold back when she hit his cruiser and would do whatever it took to avoid being taken into custody. He was about 4 feet in front of the Monte Carlo and thought that the driver was going to run him over and kill him. At that point, Trooper Lavoie started firing his gun, aiming at the driver. He continued shooting until the car stopped moving forward and the threat of being run over ended," the report said.
Other troopers told investigators they believed Lavoie was in danger of being run over by Lawrence when he started firing his gun.
The report noted Lawrence "was motivated by her prior criminal and motor vehicle record due to the near certainty that she would be going to prison if the troopers successfully apprehended her."
Charles Peter said Tuesday he considered the AG's report a way for police "to cover up their lies."
"I don't care what the AG said," Peter said. "That state trooper murdered her. That's what Donald Brown said. He told me he saw everything from his window."
Peter said Brown, who lives near where the shooting happened, told him in the presence of another woman that Lawrence had her hands up when she was shot.
According to the AG's report, Brown told investigators that Peter and a woman were at the shooting scene and asked him questions. He said they asked him if Lawrence's hands were up in the air like she was giving up. Brown said he never told Peter he saw that occur. Instead, Brown confirmed he did not see the shooting and only heard the shots being fired, according to the report. After, he looked outside and saw Lawrence in the car with both her hands on the steering wheel.
Next, he saw her hands come off the steering wheel and fall down toward her lap.
"Then the police must have gotten to him," Peter said when read what Brown told investigators.