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Irving says she will prosecute ex-officer if Attorney General fails to act

By Stephen Betts | Jun 05, 2020
A 2007 police photo of the car stopped along Friendship Road in Waldoboro. Gregori Jackson, 18, was a passenger in the car. Jackson was killed by Zachary Curtis after a foot chase that ended in a wooded area.

District Attorney Natasha Irving said Friday she will prosecute a former Waldoboro police officer for a fatal 2007 shooting if the Maine Attorney General's Office does not file charges.

"This is an opportunity to right a wrong," Irving said Friday about the Sept. 23, 2007 shooting death of Gregori Jackson by then-Waldoboro reserve police officer Zachary Curtis off Friendship Road in Waldoboro.

The Maine Attorney General's Office ruled the shooting justified. The AG's Office has never found a police shooting unjustified in the more than four decades it has reviewed shootings by police officers in Maine.

Irving — who is the chief prosecutor for Lincoln, Knox, Waldo and Sagadahoc counties — said she reviewed the evidence on more than one occasion and it calls for a murder charge to be filed.

But since the AG's Office is the only agency in the state that can prosecute murder cases, Irving said she would seek a depraved indifference murder that is deemed to be criminally negligent homicide charge even though she maintains the evidence calls for a murder charge.

If a criminal charge is filed, it would be the first time in Maine a police officer has been charged for an on-duty shooting.

"There needs to be equal justice for all people. If you wear a uniform, it doesn't give you a pass," she said.

Irving said the physical evidence is clear that the shooting did not occur as Curtis claimed it happened.

The Midcoast prosecutor said she would give the Attorney General a little more time to file murder charges before she will act. Irving said she has already had her deputy district attorney research the authority of her office to file charges related to a homicide.

"The OAG (Office of the Attorney General) has no comment at this time," AG Legislative and Press Liaison Marc Malon said Friday in an email response when asked about the status of the the investigation.

A telephone message was left early Friday afternoon with Curtis.

State Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, an independent from Friendship, has been one of the leading proponents for the AG to take action in the killing of Jackson. Evangelos also pushed for legislation to create a new panel to review police shootings.

Evangelos sent a letter to Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey June 1 about the lack of action.

"It has been almost a year since my team presented overwhelming evidence to you that Gregori Jackson's homicide at the hands of Waldoboro Police was in no way justified. An 18 year old boy, unarmed, shot in the back four times, with the fifth shot an execution shot to the back of his head while he lay hopelessly paralyzed on the ground. We have provided you overwhelming evidence that Greg's homicide was unjustified.

"While I am grateful for the work we did in the Judiciary Committee to start a reform process with the passage of LD-1219, the facts on the ground remain little changed," Evangelos stated in his letter to Frey.

That legislation creates an independent panel to review the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers. The bill was signed into law in June 2019.

In June 2019, a group met with Frey to ask that he reopen the 2007 case both to determine if the shooting was justified and to file a criminal charge. That group included Evangelos and Irving.

"Mr. Attorney General, you did the right thing when you heard our case for Gregori Jackson June 14, 2019. Now I'm waiting for you to do the right thing, as was done recently in New Hampshire, and reverse this atrocity of a decision hastily issued in 2007, when the state spent a mere two months non-investigating Greg's murder, an investigation beset by the lies of 'Officer'  Zachary Curtis and the inept performance of the Attorney General's Office at that time, even refusing to pursue documented evidence that different types of shell casings were found at Greg's body.

"We have the transcripts of this interview. And we now have transcripts of the June 9, 2019, interview of Curtis as well, where he now says there was no 8"x3 foot log that Greg allegedly attacked him with. Another lie exposed," the Friendship legislator stated in his letter.

"On June 14, 2019, you promised Mrs. Natalie Jackson, Gregori's weeping mother, that you would get back to her and us with a face to face meeting after you completed your investigation. We are still waiting for that meeting. And we are waiting for the justice Gregori Jackson deserves. It took the Minneapolis authorities four days to charge the police officer for the murder of the unarmed George Floyd. It has taken Maine 13 years and counting to adjudicate justice for the unarmed Gregori Jackson," Evangelos stated.

On Friday after being informed by the newspaper that the prosecutor planned to prosecute Curtis, Evangelos quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Let us realize the arc of the moral universal is long, but it bends toward justice."

The 2007 shooting occurred after a traffic stop on Friendship Road. Curtis determined that Jackson, a passenger in the car, had violated bail conditions on prior operating under the influence and failure to stop for an officer charges, police said. The alleged violation was that Jackson had been drinking.

When Curtis tried to arrest Jackson, the youth resisted and was pepper-sprayed by the officer. Jackson ran down the road and then into the woods, pursued by Curtis.

The officer claimed that at that point Jackson resisted arrest and the teen struck Curtis with a log. The officer further claimed that Jackson got on top of him, was trying to choke him and then put his hand on the officer's gun.

Curtis said he drew his service weapon and shot Jackson multiple times. The youth died at the scene of the shooting.

The AG's Office, then under Attorney General Steven Rowe, issued a statement Nov. 30, 2007 saying its investigation found the shooting justified.

Jackson's parents, Natalie and Millard Jackson of Whitefield, also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Curtis and Waldoboro, but a federal judge sided with the defendants in the civil case.

Curtis surrendered his law enforcement certificate in 2009 after being accused of theft.

Curtis was convicted in July 2013 of tampering with public records or information and fined $500. He was working as a dispatcher for Knox County at that time. Curtis entered into the Maine Public Safety computer system and tried to alter a record about a case in which police had gone to his home.

In January 2019, Curtis' wife filed a request for a temporary protection from abuse order against Curtis. She later withdrew it and the judge denied the request for the order.

But in the paperwork filed by his wife in the Knox County Court, the woman said Curtis has threatened her with a gun in the past, struck her and choked her.

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Comments (2)
Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Jun 07, 2020 09:15

Valerie certainly you understand as we all do the complexity of this case and reason why the AG's office has sat on this for what seems to be a lifetime.  The execution style shooting and killing of an unarmed 18 year old boy, who was running away after being pepper sprayed.  The much older officer must have felt his life threatened by this youngster.  This kind of NON-Justice approach by our justice officials is precisely the reason our country is now inflamed in protests.  Perhaps the AG should watch the classic film "in the Heat of the Night".

Posted by: Valerie Wass | Jun 06, 2020 15:31

Wonder if all the protesting helped her decide to prosecute?

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