Judge rules for town in fatal shooting by Waldoboro police officer

By Andrew Benore | Nov 24, 2010
This section of Route 220 in Waldoboro is where a traffic stop ultimately led to the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Gregori Jackson.

A U.S. District Court judge ruled for the town of Waldoboro in a case arising from the death of Gregori Jackson, who was fatally shot by a Waldoboro police officer on Sept. 23, 2007.

Natalie and Millard Jackson, parents of 18-year-old Gregori, filed a five-count complaint that said Jackson's death was caused by the officer's complete or deliberate indifference to the teen's constitutional rights. The parents’ lawsuit said the town of Waldoboro, the police chief and the town manager were liable for not properly supervising the training and conduct of the officer.

The parents’ lawsuit was filed against the town of Waldoboro, Police Officer Zachary Curtis, Police Chief William Labombarde and Town Manager William Post. Those defendants on Aug. 27 filed a motion for summary judgment. Natalie and Millard Jackson failed to respond to the motion. Their lawyers withdrew from the case in March.

“At the heart of this case is the tragic death of Gregori Jackson on Sept. 23, 2007,” wrote Judge George Singal in his Nov. 19 ruling. “It is undisputed that Mr. Jackson, who was then 18 years old, was shot to death that day by defendant Zachary Curtis, who was on patrol as a member of the Waldoboro Police Department.”

The judge addressed whether the actions of Curtis, certified to serve as a reserve police officer, were reasonable under the circumstances. “First, any initial doubt as to the severity of Jackson’s alleged crime — a violation of bail conditions based on the consumption of alcohol by a minor … — was erased when Jackson assaulted Officer Curtis in the dark of the woods by throwing a log at his face,” Singal wrote.

Judge Singal wrote that the plaintiffs’ own complaint said Jackson both resisted arrest by Curtis and attempted to evade arrest. “More importantly, the evidence presented also reveals that at the point the fatal injury occurred, Jackson continued to actively resist arrest,” Singal wrote.

Singal also ruled on whether Jackson posed an immediate threat to Officer Curtis.

“At the time Curtis made the decision to use deadly force against Jackson, Curtis had already used his hands, pepper spray, and an impact weapon in his attempt to overcome Jackson’s resistance to being taken into custody,” Singal wrote. “None of these methods proved effective. Throughout, Jackson was both heavily intoxicated and extremely agitated. Once Jackson jumped Curtis in the woods, Curtis — who was on his back with Jackson on top of him — was not able to overcome the position of physical superiority Jackson had gained. Jackson had already struck Officer Curtis in the face with a log, which both stunned him and impacted his ability to see due to the loss of his glasses.”

Singal said Officer Curtis faced an immediate threat to his life. “Jackson fought with Curtis to try to get control of the officer’s handgun and, in fact, did gain control of the gun briefly before Curtis was able to wrestle it away from him; in the course of this struggle, four unfired bullets were ejected from the gun and onto the ground,” Singal wrote. “Based on these facts, there is more than sufficient evidence that Jackson posed a considerable and immediate risk to the safety, and indeed the life, of Officer Curtis.”

Singal also ruled on the Jacksons’ claim that town officials failed to train or supervise a police officer. “In this case, the record is devoid of any evidence of an unconstitutional custom, policy or practice or deliberate indifference to the supervision, control, disciplining or training of personnel,” Singal wrote. “Nor is there any evidence in the record to infer that any custom or practice was the moving force behind the deprivations alleged. Rather, the undisputed facts before the court establish that the town police department had adopted a specific policy regarding the lawful use of force. The facts also show that Officer Curtis received use of force training, including the use of deadly force, at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, the Kennebunkport Police Department, and at the town police department before he was ever allowed to patrol alone in the town.”

The judge ruled that the town of Waldoboro had no civil liability, and Officer Curtis did not violate Jackson’s constitutional rights.

In his ruling, Judge Singal described the events of Sept. 23, 2007. Officer Curtis was on routine patrol on Route 220 in Waldoboro. He observed a motor vehicle that failed to stop at a stop sign, and the vehicle crossed the centerline several times. Curtis pulled over the vehicle at 2:14 a.m.

Gregori Jackson was in the front passenger seat. Curtis detected the odor of alcohol coming from Jackson, and the officer asked Jackson to get out of the car. Officer Curtis learned from Lincoln County Communications that Jackson, as a condition of bail, was not allowed to use or possess alcohol. Curtis attempted to place Jackson under arrest.

Curtis attempted to use his handcuffs but Jackson broke free and ran down Friendship Road and then into the woods. The officer followed and saw Jackson lying under a log. Curtis drew his handgun and ordered Jackson to stay where he was.

As the officer tried to make the arrest, Jackson knocked Curtis onto his back and landed on top of him. “Mr. Jackson began striking Officer Curtis in the head with his fist and elbow,” the judge wrote. “Mr. Jackson also began choking Officer Curtis by placing his forearm across his throat. As they struggled, Officer Curtis felt Mr. Jackson pulling at his handgun in his holster.”

Curtis and Jackson wrestled for control of the gun. “As Mr. Jackson and Officer Curtis struggled on the ground, Officer Curtis got control of his gun and pressed it into Mr. Jackson’s side and fired. Mr. Jackson did not seem to react,” the judge wrote. “With Mr. Jackson still on top of him, Officer Curtis fired several more shots in rapid succession.” Jackson died at the scene.

The Maine Attorney General's Office concluded in November 2007 that the shooting was legally justified. Curtis resigned from the Waldoboro Police Department in November 2009.

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