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Lawyer: Haverhill Officers Were Wrong to Shoot Man



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 04, 2015
Haverhill — The lawyer representing the mother of a Canterbury, N.H., man who was shot and killed by Haverhill police last month said the officers didn’t need to respond with gunfire when the 41-year-old charged at them with a knife.

Attorney Peter McGrath, a former federal prosecutor who represents Hagen Esty-Lennon’s mother, Donna Esty, said the officers should have resolved the confrontation in a non lethal way, by retreating, calling a supervisor or deploying a stun 
gun.

“Unless he is an expert knife-thrower, I don’t see an imminent fear of bodily harm to the officers,” McGrath said in a phone interview on Monday, noting that Esty-Lennon was about 10 to 15 feet away from the officers when they fired their weapons along Route 302 in Bath, N.H. “When you are that distance away, you have other options.”

The Attorney General’s Office on Friday released a 13-page report clearing Haverhill police Officers Ryan Jarvis and Greg Collins of wrongdoing in Esty-Lennon’s death. In that report, Attorney General Joseph Foster wrote that the officers had reason enough to believe that they were “faced with the imminent threat of deadly force,” saying Esty-Lennon ignored repeated commands to drop his knife and instead chose to charge at the men.

Jarvis and Collins initially tried to defuse the situation with nonlethal force, including drawing a stun gun, the report said, but noted the Taser most likely would not have stopped Esty-Lennon, an Army veteran. The officers also warned Esty-Lennon they would shoot if he did not comply with their orders.

Esty-Lennon’s mother hired McGrath to investigate the July 6 shooting, which took place shortly after Esty-Lennon crashed his SUV on a bridge that spans the Ammonoosuc River, which has been closed to vehicles. He said the process, in part, will entail interviewing witnesses, reviewing all videotapes and looking at the officers’ training and history.

McGrath said he is most concerned with the procedure that Jarvis and Collins followed that day.

“We are pushing an investigation for a number of reasons,” he said. “As a former prosecutor, I would be very concerned about procedure here.”

McGrath said he and other attorneys in his firm watched the video footage captured by the officers’ body cameras during the shooting. The videos will be released Wednesday.

Esty-Lennon, who in still images taken from the body cameras is seen with a bloodstain on his shirt, had what appeared to be a self-inflicted knife wound to his chest prior to the encounter with police, according to the attorney general’s report. The report said it was possible that Esty-Lennon was “mentally ill and potentially wanted to harm himself or commit suicide” and that may “explain why he pulled a knife on the officers, refused to drop it, and then advanced on them even after they had drawn their weapons,” the report said.

“Police are vaguely indicating suicide by cop,” McGrath said on Monday. “The family doesn’t buy that.”

McGrath said he consulted with a family physician who said it is possible for people in car accidents to suffer from shock or brain injuries, and that police should “know that” and act accordingly.

Donna Esty lives in the Grafton County town of Hebron, N.H., which also is where Esty-Lennon grew up. The divorced father of two was employed as a chef-manager at the New Hampshire Technical Institute cafe in Concord.

Haverhill police Chief Byron Charles Jr. said he has started the officers’ return-to-work evaluations, which are part of the department’s internal review. He said he couldn’t comment on when Jarvis and Collins would return to duty.

Charles also said he hasn’t had a chance to fully review the attorney general’s report, and declined to comment on the situation until he has done so.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.