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Jim Kenyon: Police Video Crucial for Accountability

  • Valley News columnist Jim Kenyon in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 15, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

Published: 8/2/2017 12:06:08 AM
Modified: 8/2/2017 10:31:34 AM

So far in 2017, police have shot and killed 581 people in the U.S., according to a database created a few years ago by the The Washington Post.

By all accounts, Bryan Evans, a 31-year-old resident of Quechee, could have easily ended up on the list. Instead he suffered a serious but non-life-threatening bullet wound to his leg.

The incident raises several questions: Was the shooting justifiable? Did police respond with the appropriate amount of force? And why didn’t police videotape the incident?

It began with an unarmed Evans getting into a brief standoff with police on I-89 South in Hopkinton, N.H., after a state trooper spotted him driving a stolen 2017 Toyota Camry. (Evans, a heroin addict, is alleged to have broken into his mother’s Quechee home, stolen her car and headed to Boston to buy drugs.)

It’s hard to know what to make of the May 19 shooting. Obviously, it’s a relief Evans wasn’t killed. At the same time, it wasn’t for a lack of trying on the part of police.

Two state troopers and a New London police officer each tried to gun down Evans. New London Officer James MacKenna fired one shot from his assault rifle but missed. Trooper Daniel Livingstone’s handgun malfunctioned and did not fire. Trooper Michael Arteaga shot twice with his handgun, hitting Evans once in the left leg.

Evans then got back into his car and drove a short distance before stopping in the breakdown lane. He again got out of car, but this time he was taken into custody without police firing any more shots.

Although it’s fortunate that the incident didn’t result in New Hampshire’s third fatal police shooting of the year, it hardly instills public confidence that the cops knew what they were doing.

Judge for yourself — the confrontation was captured in a 3½ minute cellphone video by a motorist who happened to be driving that stretch of I-89 when all hell broke loose.

Good thing. Otherwise the public would have been left in the dark about what took place that evening.

Six officers from three police departments (New London, Sutton and Warner) and the state police were on the scene. But “there were no police issued video recording devices that recorded the incident,” according to the New Hampshire attorney general’s report released last week.

State police “do not have body cameras and the officers involved in this incident did not have cruiser cameras,” the report stated. “The other officers from the towns that responded to this incident and that were equipped with either cruiser or body cameras did not have those cameras activated at the time of the shooting.”

New London Police Chief Ed Andersen, who was good enough to talk with me when I stopped by his office on Monday, said that his department’s cruisers are equipped with cameras but bugs are still being worked out before they become operational.

Andersen has watched the motorist’s video and gone over the interviews with officers who were part of Attorney General Gordon MacDonald’s investigation.

Arteaga, the state trooper who shot Evans, and MacKenna, the New London officer who fired and missed, were “legally justified” in their use of deadly force, the attorney general concluded. Evans refused to show officers his hands, police said. “Instead, Evans quickly pulled his hand out of his jacket and pointed his hands in a two-handed gun-style fashion at the officer,” the attorney general’s report indicated. Evans’ actions “led officers to reasonably believe that he had a gun pointed at them,” the report continued.

MacKenna was on duty in town that Friday evening when Arteaga, the state trooper who spotted Evans, put out a call for assistance.

MacKenna, who is in his 20s, joined the New London department in 2014. Previously, he had worked as a part-time officer in Sunapee, Andersen said. It was New London’s first officer-involved shooting in Andersen’s 21 years with the department. In deciding to pull the trigger on his AR-15, MacKenna “acted appropriately,” the chief told me. “We shoot to stop the threat.”

If it were up to me, rifles would be used only for deer hunting. But more and more they’re becoming law enforcement’s weapon of choice because of their accuracy, said Ray Keefe, a former Vermont State Police commander and detective in the major crime unit.

I called Keefe, who retired last year, to get his take on the shooting. I’d be hard-pressed to name a more tell-it-like-it-is cop. And, by the way, a cop who never fired his gun at a suspect during 29 years on the job.

After watching the video, Keefe told me that officers had no choice. “Clearly, (Evans) was reaching for something,” Keefe said. “An officer has to assume the (suspect) is going to have a gun.”

One thing that can be taken away from the incident, however, is the value of video, Keefe said. It’s too bad that a private citizen had to provide it. “I wish every officer in the country had a body camera,” said Keefe, noting that video evidence almost always shows that officers were justified in actions. No doubt the video in this case bolsters law enforcement’s argument that Evans’ shooting was justified. Still, I can’t help but think back to what started it all — a report of a stolen car.

Within minutes, Evans, dressed in pajama pants, was surrounded by a half dozen officers — guns drawn — and a police dog. “Clearly, he was in a crisis,” Keefe said. “He’s very lucky to be alive.”

But the public shouldn’t have to rely on bystanders to capture on videotape the reasons why.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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