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AG says March fatal shooting in Rochester justified

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 23. 2014 7:51PM

New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph A. Foster on Wednesday ruled a state corrections officer was justified in using deadly force when he fatally shot an unarmed Rochester man hiding inside a bedroom of his mother’s mobile home March 10.

While the attorney general found that probation and parole officer Jason Wirth was not criminally responsible for the death of Benjamin Shannon, 34, an attorney representing Shannon’s estate and family said he will pursue a civil suit against the two agencies involved for allegedly not properly training their officers.

In his 20-page report, Foster blamed Shannon for escalating events that led to the deadly encounter. Shannon, he said, refused to surrender, claimed he had a gun and told the four officers: “Shoot me; I’m going to kill you.”

“Shannon did the thing most likely to provoke the officers to fire at him: he reached into his pocket to retrieve a dark object, which he raised and pointed at probation and parole officer Jason Wirth,” Foster wrote.

Given the circumstances, it was “reasonable” for Wirth to mistakenly believe Shannon was pointing a gun at him and about to fire.

According to the report, Wirth fired four shots, two of which hit Shannon in the back and a third in the upper arm. Shannon, who died later that day at Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine, was not armed. The dark object in his hand appeared to have been a cell phone.

Concord attorney Peter McGrath said the officers who fired their weapons did not follow proper procedure.

“The proper procedure ... upon hearing a verbal threat like that ... is to back out of the premises, contact a supervisor and set up a perimeter. You don’t kick the door in and start firing,” said McGrath, who said he helped train federal officers while a federal prosecutor from 1988 to 1993.

McGrath said he will proceed with his civil suit against the state Department of Corrections and Strafford County Sheriff’s Office alleging they were negligent for not properly training their officers. The suit filed in Strafford County Superior Court also alleges civil rights violations, infliction of emotional stress and physical pain. The suit seeks monetary damages.

Foster suggested Shannon may have been suicidal and wanted to provoke the officers to kill him.

Shannon, he noted, was arrested the month prior for armed robbery of a local convenience store and had an active warrant against him for violating bail conditions by drinking alcohol. Shannon had multiple cuts up and down one arm that appeared self-inflicted. His blood-alcohol concentration when admitted to Maine Medical was 0.173 — over the legal limit to drive, the report said.

Wirth was one of three state Department of Corrections probation and parole officers who went to the Saks Trailer Homes at 28 Periwinkle Drive to look for Shannon’s brother, Wayne Shannon Jr., who is a parolee. The others were officers Ian Stringer and Benjamin Densmore. Strafford County Sheriff Deputy Brian Hester accompanied them.

The officers knew there also was an active warrant against Benjamin Shannon, the report said.

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