State settles with family of woman shot by trooper following 2013 chaseBy MARK HAYWARD
New Hampshire Union Leader
November 11. 2017 9:24PM
The state will pay $750,000 to the family of Wendy Lawrence, the Canterbury woman gunned down by a New Hampshire State Police trooper in 2013 once a police chase had ended, according to the lawyer representing her estate.
New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald and Lawrence’s son, Michael Rand, agreed to the settlement to end the $2 million suit that Lawrence’s estate brought against Trooper Chad Lavoie, said the lawyer for the estate, Chuck Douglas.
Lawrence, who was 45 and struggled with mental health and addiction issues, had stopped her car on a residential street in Manchester when Lavoie grazed it with his cruiser, exited his car and shot 11 times into her car, killing her, Douglas said.
Fewer than three weeks later, then Attorney General Joseph Foster ruled the case was justified (see below), saying Lawrence rammed the cruiser and that Lavoie feared she would run him down.
Douglas called Foster’s determination a rush to judgment and faulted investigators for not checking a black box recording device in the Lawrence vehicle. The device, he said, showed that Lawrence’s car was stopped and not moving when Lavoie’s cruiser grazed it as he boxed her in.
“He came in hot, overshot the runway and hit her car,” Douglas said.
The family filed suit in U.S. District Court. Douglas said settlement talks began after Judge Paul Barbadoro ruled in September (see below) that the case could go forward. Barbadoro ruled that Lavoie witnessed no conduct that would lead him to believe that other police were in significant danger, Douglas said.
Although Lavoie was sued individually, state government indemnifies its workers, meaning the state will write the check.
On Monday, Senior Assistant Attorney General Karen Schlitzer notified the court the case had been settled.
“It was scheduled to be a long trial,” she said. “As lawyers, we always recognize there are risks with trials. We wanted to be able to have certainty. This settlement provides certainty on the outcome.”
Cleared in 2011 shooting
Lavoie was promoted to state police sergeant in 2015, according to information provided by the Department of Administrative Services. His base pay last year was $77,958; he earned $107,693 last year in base pay, overtime and special duty pay.
Lavoie was cleared in another police shooting. In 2011, he and four other officers shot a pistol-waving man in Pelham after he made threatening actions, according to newspaper archives.
His use of force was found to be justified in both incidents and he retained his gun and badge. An email sent to Lavoie on Thursday was not returned.
Douglas said the settlement followed a 6 1/2-hour mediation session at MacDonald’s office on Nov. 1.
In the settlement, Lavoie does not admit to any fault in the death.
Douglas, however, said the current attorney general spoke to Michael Rand after the agreement was reached. Douglas wouldn’t repeat what MacDonald said, but said his words were appropriate, caring and professional.
“Certainly, we always extend empathy to all the families who we deal with,” Schlitzer said. “Without question, and without a doubt, we recognize when there is a death, there is a tragedy. Any loss of life is tragic.”
Lawrence had two sons and a granddaughter. The granddaughter was an infant when Lawrence was killed.
“Wendy was lively and vivacious and had a talent for making people feel comfortable and relaxed. She loved family gatherings and parties, and worked part time as a disc jockey and karaoke host for events,” Douglas said in a statement.
He added that these four years have been difficult for Lawrence’s family, and they hope to move on. The settlement, he said, will help bring closure.
Black box evidence
On Sept. 30, 2013, Lawrence had led police on a miles-long police chase on New Hampshire interstates from the Hopkinton area into Manchester. By the time she had exited the highway, she had slowed down to a legal speed, and a state police lieutenant had called off the pursuit.
Foster’s investigation determined Lawrence had rammed the Lavoie cruiser.
Douglas said a “black box” recording device in the Lawrence car disproved the account of a ramming. He faulted state police and Foster’s investigators for never checking the device. Douglas said his experts recovered and tested the device once the car was released to its owner.
But the Attorney General’s Office said they had experts who would have disagreed at trial.
“I can tell you that our expert would have refuted the plaintiff’s experts about whether the car was moving,” Schlitzer said. “We had a car reconstruction expert and a ballistics expert who would’ve refuted what the plaintiff’s experts would’ve said.”
Foster’s investigation involved state police, the attorney general and Manchester police.
“It shouldn’t be the Attorney General’s Office asking the questions,” Douglas said. “They work with the state police all the time.”
The civil rights suit against Lavoie alleged violations of the 14th and Fourth amendments; the latter limits police searches and seizures.
“When you kill someone,” Douglas said, “that’s the ultimate seizure under the Fourth Amendment.”
Money for the settlement will come from the state’s highway fund because it helps to fund the Department of Safety. If there isn’t enough money in the highway fund, the settlement will come from the state’s general fund.