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Family of man shot and killed by state trooper in Canaan still waiting for answers

Union Leader Correspondent

January 22. 2018 8:13PM
During an interview Monday in West Lebanon, Oscar "Fred" Butman and Cheryl Mason hold a picture of Jesse James Champney. Champney was Mason's son and Butman's stepson. (JOHN KOZIOL/Union Leader Correspondent)

CANAAN — Thirty days after Jesse James Champney was shot and killed by a New Hampshire state trooper, his parents say they still have not been told why fatal force was used to bring in their son on a warrant for failure to appear in court on a drug charge.

Champney, 26, was shot four times Dec. 23 by trooper Christopher O’Toole in a field at the intersection of Switch Road and Route 4. O’Toole, who remains on administrative leave, was at the scene with Canaan police officer Samuel Provenza, who did not fire his weapon.

On Monday, Champney’s mother, Cheryl Mason, and Oscar “Fred” Butman, her longtime companion, said Champney was beginning to turn his life around when he was killed.

He was driving a car borrowed from a friend; riding along was his fiancé, Saeti Tobin. At the time, there was a warrant for his arrest for failing to appear in court on a 2016 heroin sale charge.

Mason said Champney attended Mascoma Valley Regional High School, where he played football, but did not graduate, although he earned a GED while in jail for a theft conviction.

Earlier, while at the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services’ Youth Detention Services Unit, Champney earned certificates for his automotive skills, his mother said.

He also gradually developed an addiction to opiates, Mason said. He enrolled in a suboxone-treatment program but eventually couldn’t afford it anymore.

She said “a lot of little stupid things” led Champney to decide to flee from police on Dec. 23 rather than spend the upcoming Christmas holiday behind bars.

Butman, who said he and Mason have spoken with Tobin and many other people who interacted with Champney on that day, said that Champney was being pursued by two police cruisers as he left a convenience store.

Signs at the home of a member of Jesse James Champney’s family on Route 118 in Canaan express frustration with his shooting death on Dec. 23 by a New Hampshire state trooper in a field several miles to the west. (JOHN KOZIOL/Union Leader Correspondent)

He pulled off Route 4 onto Switch Road, but because it was icy, the car slid off the road and into the field. Champney jumped out and began running toward the tree line, Tobin told them. He encouraged Tobin to do the same, but she stayed inside the vehicle.

Jeffery A. Strelzin, the state’s senior assistant attorney general, said “the matter is still actively ongoing” so he could not comment on the investigation.

Strelzin said he did not know when a preliminary report would be completed, but added “we try to do them as expeditiously as possible.”

Without knowing what happened, “We can’t get along with our lives,” said Mason who owns a home with Butman in Grafton. The two are now living with Butman’s mother in Canaan, taking care of her.

“People cared about him,” Butman said of Champney.

He said some 250 people came to a memorial service for Champney on Jan. 7. Some of those same folks also helped build a memorial in the field where Champney was killed; that memorial was subsequently vandalized. A new one has since been erected in its place.

Mason said nothing can bring back her son, but she wants answers and justice for him.

“Somebody,” she said, “needs to be held accountable.”

Crime, law and justice Public Safety Canaan

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