NASHUA — A county prosecutor is arguing that an eyewitness account of a police officer-involved shooting earlier this year does not contradict Officer Stephen Morrill’s rendition of the March 22 incident.
Morrill shot Craig Riley, 41, of Nashua, twice when Riley allegedly tried to grab the patrolman’s gun and managed to obtain the officer’s expandable baton.
Although the state Attorney General’s Office has cleared Morrill in the shooting, maintaining the force was legally justified, defense attorney Anthony Sculimbrene believes that an eyewitness account of the shooting contradicts Morrill’s version of the events that took place at the Knightsbridge Arms condominium development, according to court documents.
Jonathan Villaronga was in a residential apartment at the time of the shooting, and has provided details to authorities about what he heard take place in the hallway between Morrill and Riley.
“I just think it wasn’t right what the officer did,” Villaronga told police. “I don’t know how the law is over here, you know, but I mean the guy had no weapon on him you know, it’s crazy.”
According to court records, Riley allegedly ran from Morrill three times during the incident, which escalated into an altercation between the two men. Indictments state that Riley allegedly grabbed Morrill’s baton and swung it twice at the officer. Riley is also accused of pushing Morrill twice, striking him three times, placing his arm around the officer’s neck and trying to grab his firearm, says the indictments.
Morrill eventually pulled his gun and fired two shots — both of them striking Riley, who survived the shootings.
“Mr. Villaronga did not report seeing anyone, but he did report hearing the police officer say ‘put it down, put it down,’ twice, and then he heard two gunshots,” Kathleen Broderick, assistant county attorney, wrote in court documents on file at Hillsborough County Superior Court. “Mr. Villaronga was not a witness to the defendant threatening officer Morrill with his baton, nor is Mr. Villaronga an eyewitness to the defendant’s attempt to strike officer Morrill’s head with his baton.”
Broderick went on to say that Villaronga was not in the hallway and did not see anything that took place. In fact, the witness’ statement about what he heard in the hallway corroborates Morrill’s statements, according to Broderick.
The defense attorney disagrees, maintaining in court documents that the version of events “does not square” with the testimony provided. Sculimbrene has requested deposition of Morrill and a city police detective.
Although Judge Charles Temple has granted the depositions, ruling they are necessary under the facts and circumstances of the case, the prosecution objects to any deposition with Morrill or the detective.
Broderick maintains that nearly 1,750 pages of discovery have already been handed over to the defense team, and that any deposition to “engage in a fishing expedition” is unnecessary to ensure a fair trial, according to court records.
Jury selection has been tentatively scheduled for Nov. 3 in the case. Riley has been indicted on six counts of reckless conduct or 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 being in possession of heroin.