Family of Woman Killed in Police Shooting Sues N.H. Trooper

Wednesday, December 31, 2014
The family of a Canterbury, N.H., woman who died last year in an officer-involved shooting has sued the trooper who killed her, insisting he placed himself in unnecessary danger.

Wendy Lawrence was shot dead the morning of Sept. 30, 2013, after leading troopers on a chase down Interstate 93 and through a residential Manchester neighborhood.

The shooter, Trooper Chad Lavoie, fired several shots at her car after boxing it in at the intersection of Dave Street and Kennard Road.

Lavoie and fellow troopers said Lawrence had rammed his cruiser and was preparing to do so once more, this time with him out of the vehicle and in the path of travel.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court, alleges that Lawrence never struck Lavoie’s cruiser, that he in fact hit her, that she posed no immediate threat and that Lavoie acted carelessly by stepping in front of Lawrence’s car before firing his weapon.

“This was a self-created risk that did not justify Lavoie’s summary execution of Wendy Lawrence,” the complaint says.

Lavoie was cleared last year by state investigators, who noted that, in addition to ramming his cruiser, Lawrence had also nearly struck a pedestrian and several other cars when the police chase started, near the crossing of interstates 89 and 93. They said Lawrence had been pulled over for a traffic stop, and that she likely fled because she had a suspended license at the time.

The suit, however, says Lawrence abided by all speed limits and stop signs once she exited the interstate, and that she came to a full stop in front of Lavoie’s cruiser.

It claims Lavoie then swiped her front bumper before exiting his own vehicle, and that proof of that was captured by an air bag control module in Lawrence’s car, which showed that the car never moved in the five seconds before the collision in question (it acknowledges, though, that Lawrence had been revving the engine loudly).

Lavoie ultimately fired 11 shots at the car, emptying his gun clip and striking Lawrence four times — in the neck, chest and hand. She died about an hour later, according to the suit. It claims that Lavoie made no attempt to shoot out her tires or radiator, and that he fired no warning shot.

“If an American soldier did this in Iraq or Afghanistan, he would have been court-martialed for violating the rules of engagement,” Chuck Douglas, one of the attorneys representing the family, said in a statement. “It scares me to think that our military in war zones is held to a higher standard of restraint than our own state police.”

Karen Schlitzer, an assistant attorney general, said she had yet to receive the complaint and had no immediate comment.

She said Lavoie is still employed by the Department of Safety, but was unsure in what capacity.

Lavoie joined the state police in 2005 and has been involved in two other officer-involved shootings, both of which were similarly cleared by the Attorney General’s Office.

He was one of five officers who shot and killed an armed suspect in Pelham in 2011, and one of seven officers involved in another standoff in Manchester earlier that year. Lavoie never opened fire in the Manchester case, according to investigators.

Lavoie is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and was recognized by Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen in 2012 as one of several officers who had gone “above and beyond the call of duty.”