CLAREMONT — In an unprecedented reversal, the Attorney General’s office announced Tuesday that the 2016 shooting death of Cody Lafont by former police officer Ian Kibbe is no longer considered “legally justified.”
Kibbe was the only witness to the Sept. 25, 2016, shooting death of the 25-year-old Claremont man; the Attorney General’s office deemed the killing justified after an initial investigation. Now, the Attorney General has decided to review the shooting in light of Kibbe’s subsequent conviction for lying and obstruction following a 2018 arrest.
“Accordingly, based on a review of the case and considering all the evidence, including Mr. Kibbe’s subsequent criminal conduct and the questions it raised about his credibility as a police officer, the Attorney General’s office can no longer conclude that Mr. Kibbe’s actions were legally justified,” Tuesday’s statement from Attorney General Gordon MacDonald states.
“Instead, the office has concluded that it could not disprove Mr. Kibbe’s self-defense claim, beyond a reasonable doubt, and therefore no criminal charges will be filed against Mr. Kibbe as a result of Mr. Lafont’s death.”
A Union Leader review of New Hampshire Attorney General reports on officer-involved fatal shootings dating back to 1998 shows that the state rarely finds police at fault for shootings. While police are often found to have been legally justified in shooting civilians, there has been no instance of the state ever reversing a finding that a shooting was legally justified.
Kibbe was sentenced to three months in jail in January after pleading guilty to one count of “unsworn falsification” and one count of obstruction of government administration related to the Febuary 2018 arrest of Christopher Ratcliffe.
MacDonald’s statement said there is no relation between Kibbe’s illegal search involving Ratcliffe and the Lafont killing, other than that the search exposed Kibbe’s lack of credibility.
“The purpose for this further review was to reexamine the facts and circumstances of the 2016 incident in light of the crimes Mr. Kibbe committed that implicated his credibility as a police officer,” the statement reads.
Assistant Attorney General John Kennedy said Tuesday the shooting not being legally justified does not automatically mean that the state can bring charges. Kibbe’s story is one of self-defense, which raises the legal bar for the state, Kennedy said.
“When the claim of self-dense is raised, it is the state’s burden to disprove self-defense,” he said. “We cannot say it is legally justified, but we don’t have the evidence to disprove self defense.”
The state’s review of the case included a third-party expert, Dr. Marilyn Miller, looking at all of the evidence, Kennedy said. While Miller agreed that the crime scene investigation was sound, the investigation rests largely on Kibbe’s testimony as the sole eye witness. Even though the physical evidence lines up with Kibbe’s story, Kennedy said Kibbe’s credibility issues are significant.
“A large part of this case is the eyewitness testimony of the officer involved,” he said.
Kibbe was the only witness to the encounter that would cost Lafont his life, according to the investigation. Kibbe told investigators that Lafont brandished a handgun and refused multiple orders to drop it, and that he feared for his life when he fired three shots.
Lafont had a history of mental health issues. Following a drunken episode in 2013, his family took away all of his guns, according to the report. The Attorney General’s report says Lafont’s revolver, purchased from a friend in 2013, may have not even worked.
His father, Ken Lafont, claims there was no gun in the house before Kibbe killed his son.
At the time of the shooting, Cody Lafont was facing charges of misusing the 911 system for his habit of calling to speak with an officer when he was intoxicated or depressed, according to the AG’s report.
Cody Lafont’s estate is suing Kibbe, Claremont Police Capt. Brent Wilmot, and the Claremont Police Department for wrongful death.
According to court records, Kibbe lied about seeing weapons in the bedroom of convicted felon Christopher Ratcliffe during a February 2018 arrest. Kibbe was to serve a warrant for Ratcliffe’s arrest at his apartment with fellow Claremont officer Mark Burch and New Hampshire State Trooper Eric Fosterling.
But Kibbe and Burch lied at the scene, telling Fosterling that a baton, a Glock pistol, and a rifle were among the weapons in plain sight in Ratcliff’s bedroom, according to records obtained in the case. The weapons were in reality inside closed bags when the officers first arrested Ratcliffe.
Kibbe wrote in his report and subsequent affidavit to obtain a warrant that the weapons were in plain sight, according to the records.
Burch then took the affidavit to a justice of the peace in Charlestown, who did not require the signing officer, Kibbe, to swear to the truth of the affidavit, according to the records.
Fosterling, uneasy with what he had witnessed, told his immediate supervisor about the search.
Coincidentally, Kibbe had arrested Ratcliffe on the night of Sept. 25, 2016, just hours before he shot and killed Cody Lafont, according to court records. Following that 2016 interaction with Kibbe, Ratcliffe would complain online that Kibbe had been overly aggressive during his arrest, according to the Lafont wrongful death lawsuit.
“When Mr. Ratcliffe heard of a police-involved shooting taking place in Claremont that night, and before the name of the shooter had even been released, Ratcliffe would post on social media suggestions that Kibbe was the shooter because, in effect, ‘there was only sociopath on duty’ that night,” the lawsuit states. “Kibbe would later notice, read, and save Ratcliffe’s social media postings.”