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Attorney General Clears Claremont Officer in Fatal Shooting

  • Local and state police investigate an officer-involved shooting at a home on Congress Street in Claremont, N.H., that occurred early Sunday, September 25, 2016. Twenty-five-year old Cody LaFont was killed during the incident. (Valley News - John Happel) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Cody LaFont in an undated family photograph. (Family photograph)



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, October 20, 2016

Claremont — A Claremont police officer was “legally justified” when he shot a 25-year-old Claremont man in the entryway of the victim’s home last month, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office said in a report issued Wednesday evening.

Cpl. Ian Kibbe faced an “imminent threat of deadly force” from Cody LaFont when LaFont opened the front door to his Congress Street home on Sept. 25, advanced toward Kibbe with a revolver drawn and ignored commands to drop the weapon.

“At that point, believing that Mr. LaFont was going to shoot him and fearing for his life, Cpl. Kibbe fired his service weapon three times,” the report states. “The Attorney General has concluded that Cody LaFont created a dangerous situation, which he escalated to the point where it became reasonable for Cpl. Ian Kibbe to conclude that he faced an imminent threat of deadly force.”

Police later determined LaFont’s revolver wasn’t loaded. Ammunition that matched the gun was in a locked safe inside the home.

LaFont’s mother, Tracy McEachern, said she had no immediate comment about the report. Messages left for LaFont’s father, Kenneth, and stepfather, Aaron Fitzherbert, weren’t returned.

LaFont’s encounter with police started at 4:13 a.m. that Sunday when he placed a 911 call and told authorities he was “not thinking straight” and that he was “drunk once again.” He said he was “fine” but was suffering from depression, according to the report.

He called 911 three more times in 37 minutes; he wanted a Claremont officer to respond to his home to speak with him face-to-face, something city officers had done on several previous occasions. Though he was “sometimes hostile or belligerent” he was “never openly violent” during those other encounters, the report states.

Kibbe and one other officer, Sgt. Brent Wilmot, were on shift that night, and Kibbe was asked to go to LaFont’s home and tell him to “stop calling 911.”

LaFont’s voice grew frustrated during his last 911 call, but overall he didn’t sound “overly upset, emotional or distraught, nor did (he) make any threats or indicate that he wanted to harm himself, a police officer, or anyone else,” the report states.

Kibbe arrived at LaFont’s home at 4:49 a.m. LaFont would be dead one minute later.

Kibbe told authorities in a recorded interview that when he knocked on the front door, he could see LaFont sitting on the couch inside.

LaFont eventually opened the front door and his pit bull ran into the closed screen door. LaFont was holding a bottled drink in one hand and a revolver at chest-height in the other hand, his hand on the trigger and the barrel pointed at the ground, Kibbe recalled in the interview.

LaFont ignored Kibbe’s commands to drop the weapon, and instead put the drink under his arm and opened the screen door, causing the dog to charge toward Kibbe, who had backed down the stairs and unholstered his duty weapon.

LaFont stood on the top steps “smiling” with the gun in hand, and continued to ignore Kibbe’s commands to drop the weapon, according to the report.

“Instead, Mr. LaFont, who never spoke during the encounter with Cpl. Kibbe, stepped toward the officer, while at the same time starting to point the gun at Cpl. Kibbe,” the report states. “At that time, Cpl. Kibbe fired his pistol, shooting in quick succession.”

LaFont dropped to the ground and his dog hovered near his body, the report states.

Kibbe “immediately” relayed “shots fired” into his radio, went over to a still-conscious LaFont and called for backup.

Ambulance personnel pronounced LaFont dead at the scene, the report states.

The attorney general offered no conclusions about why LaFont pulled a gun on Kibbe, why he ignored commands and why he advanced toward the officer. The report, however, identifies several factors that might have affected his judgment and behavior, including clinical depression, which his mother said in recent interviews he was battling at the time of incident.

LaFont was intoxicated during the encounter, something that likely made his depression at the time worse, the report states. LaFont had been with friends that evening, and though they said he had been drinking heavily, he wasn’t “belligerent, aggressive or despondent.”

In addition, prior to LaFont’s death, he had expressed worry that he was going to go to jail in late-October. He had a court hearing scheduled for Oct. 24 in connection with several misdemeanor charges, including one that stemmed from him misusing the 911 system. He had expressed concerns about the possibility of being imprisoned because he had failed to complete alcohol counseling, the report states.

LaFont’s friends and family believed he didn’t have any weapons inside his home. His mother and stepfather had taken what they thought were all of his guns in 2015, the report states.

LaFont however had purchased the revolver from someone he knew in 2013, according to the report.

Sept. 25 wasn’t the first time Kibbe had dealings with LaFont or had seen LaFont with a weapon. Kibbe had responded to LaFont’s house previously when he called 911 seeking someone to talk to.

During a 2015 instance, when Kibbe and another officer entered LaFont’s residence, he had an unloaded assault rifle in his living room, according to the report. Though LaFont was “verbally abusive at points” during that encounter, he was not violent, the report states.

Dozens of people were interviewed during the 3½-week investigation into LaFont’s death. The attorney general said none of the people interviewed saw the actual shooting take place; It was just Kibbe and LaFont at the Congress Street home that morning.

The incident also wasn’t caught on camera. Claremont police don’t wear body cameras, nor do they have cruiser cameras.

Now that the Attorney General’s Office has completed its investigation, the Claremont Police Department will begin an internal review of the situation, Claremont Police Chief Alex Scott said.

That review will look at several aspects, including whether his department should increase or alter its mental health training for officers, and whether the department should look more closely at obtaining body or cruiser cams. Kibbe, who joined the Claremont department in March 2014 after working for Windsor police for two years, had completed mental health training and training on the use of less-than-lethal force, according to the report. His only previous use of a firearm on duty occurred in response to animal threats, according to the report.

He said that review could take a couple of weeks.

Kibbe won’t return to the patrol force until the internal review has been completed and a police psychologist determines that he is fit to return to his regular scheduled duties, Scott said.

The chief had little to say about the report itself.

“There is nothing that I can say that makes the situation better,” Scott said.

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