Police Cleared In Shooting Grafton Man
Larry Bohannon in a 2008 photograph. (Courtesy photograph)
New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney yesterday ruled that police officers in Walpole, N.H., were justified in fatally shooting a Grafton man after he committed an armed robbery, initiated a high-speed chase and brandished a weapon that turned out to be a pellet gun.
Larry Bohannon, 51, as shot five times by an Alstead, N.H. police officer after Bohannon, did not respond to commands to drop a gun he raised while still in his overturned vehicle, Delaney said yesterday.
“When finally stopped, Mr. Bohannon refused to comply with the officers’ demands that he show his hands, and appeared to be reaching for something, after which he did have a black handgun in his hand,” Delaney said in a nine-page report. “Therefore, the police officer who fired upon Mr. Bohannon was further justified by his reasonable belief that he was confronting a fleeing felon who was likely to endanger human life or inflict serious bodily injury unless apprehended.”
The event that triggered the ordeal — Bohannon’s robbery of a Bellows Falls, Vt. store, according to police — netted him $400.
The report issued yesterday made no mention of any other witnesses to the March 29 event except for Walpole officers Justin Sanctuary and Noah Sanctuary, who are brothers, and Alstead police officer Cameron Prior, who fired all the shots.
In an interview, Senior Assistant Attorney General Janice Rundles said the officers were the only people who witnessed the shooting, even though it took place in a residential neighborhood in Walpole around 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon.
“We have not had any witnesses to the shooting come forward,” Rundles said.
Delaney’s report says that Bohannon was asked several times to drop his weapon — which appeared to be a normal handgun — but, even after he was surrounded and had been hit by the initial gunshots, continued to hold the gun, and began to raise it.
Rundles said it was unclear if Bohannon was trying to provoke officers into firing.
“I can’t speak as to what his state of mind was,” Rundles said. “I don’t know why he behaved the way he did.”
Bohannon, who was on parole after a kidnapping conviction in the mid 1990s, was divorced last year from his wife, a Canaan resident, with whom he had two young children. Bohannon was on the lam from his parole officer and never participated in the divorce proceedings, according to Lebanon Circuit Court records.
His family could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Delaney’s report gives the following account.
Around 4 p.m. on March 29, Bohannon entered the Snow & Lear/Newton Business in Bellows Falls, Vt. wearing a mask that covered his face. He pointed a black handgun at the clerk, grabbed money from the desk, and demanded money from the register.
“Don’t look at me, don’t look at me,” he told the clerk.
A female customer entered the store: Bohannon ordered both women to the floor, and ran out. The customer followed Bohannon outside, and observed him get into a Chevy truck and saw part of his license plate. The store clerk called 911.
Hearing an alert over his police radio, Prior drove toward an intersection in Drewsville, N.H., a few miles across the Connecticut River from Bellows Falls and soon saw Bohannon drive pass him on River Street.
Prior activated his lights and gave chase. He briefly lost sight of the truck, but found it pulled off behind an oil company building on River Road, with the engine still running.
Prior positioned his vehicle 50 feet from the truck, and saw the man inside reach around the cab of the truck and raise his hand up while holding a black handgun.
Fearing a shoot out, Prior backed up his vehicle, and Bohannon pulled back onto the road.
The pursuit continued down River Road (Route 123) into Walpole. Bohannon slowed and sped up several times, going as fast as 80 mph in 35 mph and 40 mph zones, illegally passed several cars and drove over the center line, nearly colliding with oncoming vehicles.
Meanwhile, the Sanctuarys had positioned themselves ahead, near Upper Walpole Road. Bohannon passed them, turned into a residential neighborhood, pulled into a front yard. As he tried to drive away, one of the Walpole officers rammed Bohannon’s truck, causing it to overturn and land on its passenger side. The truck slid into Prior’s nearby cruiser.
Prior got out of his car with his gun drawn, stood in front of the overturned truck, and could see Bohannon, in a “semi standing position” inside the truck, reaching down for something. Bohannon eventually pulled the handgun “and began to manipulate it with both hands as if he was readying it to fire,” Delaney said.
Prior told him to drop the weapon, but he did not respond. He fired two or three rounds at Bohannon, who, though he had been hit, did not drop the gun. Prior fired three more shots, aiming specifically for his head and upper torso.
After Prior fired, Justin Sanctuary drew closer to Bohannon’s cruiser, and saw that, even after he was hit by Prior’s initial shots, Bohannon continued to reach for something. He said he did not see a gun, but heard Prior yelling “Drop it, drop it.”
Noah Sanctuary, standing to the left of Prior with his gun drawn, said he saw Bohannon raise the gun in his right hand “above his waist to his stomach and aim it from his midsection” toward them.
Noah Sanctuary said that, had Prior not opened fire, he would have: Noah Sanctuary said that Bohannon “appeared to be prepared to fire his weapon.”
New Hampshire Chief Medical Examiner Thomas Andrew found that Bohannon was shot twice in the right chest, once in the right rib case, once in the left side of his abdomen, and once in the head, Delaney said.
Under New Hampshire law, police officers are allowed to use deadly force when they “reasonably believe” it is necessary to defend themselves or others from the “imminent use” of deadly force — officers do not have to wait until a suspect fires to fire on them.
Bohannon intentionally fled from police, endangered others during the chase, displayed the gun to Prior and refused to surrender his weapon even when surrounded, Delaney said, “thereby indicating his unwillingness to be taken into custody and his apparent willingness to use deadly force against the officers to prevent them from doing so.”
Additionally, Delaney said that Bohannon’s criminal history — by absconding from parole in 2011, he was potentially facing a lengthy prison sentence — indicated that he had motivation to avoid custody.
“Mr. Bohannon’s background and current circumstances strengthens the conclusion that he did not intend to be taken into custody and would have taken extreme measures to avoid it,” Delaney said.
Additionally, Delaney noted that “several police departments” in the region are investigating whether Bohannon was responsible for unsolved robberies.
Lebanon police have previously said that they believe Bohannon may have been responsible for unsolved armed robberies in March at The Little Store and Family Dollar — the descriptions of the robber match Bohannon — though they have cautioned that they were unsure and may never reach a firm conclusion.
Lebanon police declined to comment yesterday.
Mark Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3304.