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Report: NH trooper justified in fatal shooting of Canaan man; family reviewing findings

Union Leader Correspondent

March 15. 2018 8:30AM
Oscar “Fred” Butman and Cheryl Mason hold a picture of Jesse James Champney. Champney was Mason's son and Butman's stepson. (File/JOHN KOZIOL/Union Leader Correspondent)

NORTH HAVERHILL — The New Hampshire Attorney General’s office has ruled that a state trooper was justified in killing a 26-year-old Canaan man.

Jesse J. Champney died in a field near the junction of Route 4 and Switch Road in Canaan on Dec. 23, 2017 — shot four times by Trooper Christopher O’Toole.

Canaan police officer Samuel Provenza and O’Toole were responding to a report of a stolen Chrysler LeBaron believed to have been taken by Champney earlier in the day from a Canaan residence.

During an hour-long news conference Wednesday at Grafton County Superior Court, Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin said Champney was a convicted felon in a stolen car wanted on a warrant for failing to appear in court to answer a felony drug charge.

Saeti Tobin, Champney’s fiancée and a passenger in the vehicle the day he was shot, told investigators that he was “tripping” on drugs while being pursued by police, Strelzin said.

Strelzin said Champney repeatedly shouted that he had a gun in his pocket and would shoot the officer.

Champney also repeatedly told Tobin that he would not go back to prison.

Strelzin said that once the motor vehicle chase ended at the field, O’Toole repeatedly directed Champney to stop, but he didn’t.

Strelzin said O’Toole was about 70 feet behind Champney when the Canaan man “turned his entire body to the left” and the officer decided that what Champney was doing posed “a currently unfolding happening threat” and fired his .45 caliber pistol four times.

Champney went down and tried to get up, but Strelzin said he again failed to comply with O’Toole’s order to show his hand; O’Toole thought Champney had been using his hand to stabilize something in his jacket pocket.

Unsure that he had struck Champney, O’Toole moved slightly to his left and fired three more rounds, said Strelzin, after which Champney raised both hands in surrender.

“Where’s your gun,” O’Toole demanded of Champney, who it turned out had knives.

O’Toole and Provenza administered CPR to Champney until EMS arrived, but he died at the scene. O’Toole has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting.

Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin points to a satellite image showing the scene where Jesse Champney was shot and killed in December. (JOHN KOZIOL/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

In an email Wednesday, George Ostler, the attorney representing Champney’s mother and stepfather, Cheryl Mason and Oscar “Fred” Butman, said the family “will not have any response today. We will need some time to review the report prior to making any statements.”

In an interview with the Union Leader, Mason and Butman said Champney was beginning to turn his life around last year. They concede it was “stupid” of Champney to flee from police on Dec. 23 knowing there was a warrant for his arrest for failing to appear in court. He didn’t want to spend Christmas behind bars, they said.

The details of the investigation were compiled in a 34-page report released Wednesday along with audio and video clips. None of the clips record the shooting of Champney.

In the first clip from Provenza’s dashcam shown to the media by Strelzin, the lights are on the officer’s cruiser as O’Toole approaches the LeBaron convertible in a convenience store parking lot. The car is shown pulling away from O’Toole and up to the front of the store. Tobin exits the store and enters the car, which then takes off westbound on Route 4.

State Police Col. Christopher Wagner extended his sympathy to Champney’s family and friends on Wednesday. 

He said “no trooper wants to be in a position where they have to use deadly force” and that the shooting has had “a profound effect” on O’Toole, who remains on administrative leave and is serving in a different barracks.

Crime North Haverhill

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