Police shooting of Searsport man called justified

Posted April 16, 2010, at 1:01 p.m.

SEARSPORT, Maine — A Maine state trooper who shot and wounded a man last December while attempting to arrest him acted within the law when he used deadly force, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills concluded in a report released Friday.

Trooper Corey Smith was trying to arrest Matthew A. Sylvester, 24, of Searsport in the early morning of Dec. 17, 2009, when Smith shot Sylvester in the upper left arm.

Under Maine law, the attorney general must investigate a law enforcement officer who uses deadly force while performing his duties. The attorney general must determine whether self-defense, defense of others or another legal justification was the reason behind the deadly force, in which case there would not be a criminal prosecution.

The report does not determine whether or not there was civil liability or whether the use of deadly force could have been avoided at all costs.

“Trooper Smith reasonably believed that unlawful deadly force was imminently threatened by Mr. Sylvester against others,” the report read. “[He] reasonably believed that deadly force was necessary to protect others from such imminent threat of deadly force.”

That morning, the trooper had responded to a “hysterical” 911 caller who reported that Sylvester had shot Richard Brown “several times” in North Searsport and still was armed with a .40-caliber Glock pistol, according to the attorney general’s report.

Smith looked for the accused shooter at a Frankfort residence, then went to Sylvester’s father’s home in Searsport along with Searsport Police Department Sgt. Steven Saucier.

The two men saw the red Ford Thunderbird they had heard Sylvester might be using and used the cover of darkness to approach the house, but thought they had been spotted. They hid behind a tree and called for backup.

While Saucier returned to his cruiser to get his patrol rifle and hand warmers, Smith moved to a spot with a better view. He heard someone walking in the snow and then heard a car door close.

“Trooper Smith yelled a warning to Sgt. Saucier,” according to the attorney general’s report, and watched as someone started driving toward him in the red Thunderbird.

Smith then identified himself and ordered the driver to stop.

“Instead of stopping or slowing, however, the vehicle accelerated slightly,” the report said.

The trooper moved to avoid being struck by the Thunderbird. He then noticed the driver was holding a black handgun, which was pointed toward the center console of the car. When the car was three feet from Smith, the trooper fired two rounds from his handgun at the driver, the report said.

“The vehicle came to a stop and the driver screamed, ‘You shot me.’ Trooper Smith ordered the driver to show his hands and the driver stuck them out the window,” according to the report.

The driver, who identified himself as Sylvester, got out of the car, leaving the gun inside. The officers provided Sylvester with first aid until the arrival of emergency medical personnel. At Waldo County General Hospital, Sylvester was treated for a gunshot wound to the upper left arm and then released, according to the report.

A Waldo County grand jury indicted Sylvester on Feb. 11 on charges of attempted murder and elevated aggravated assault in the shooting of Brown with the Glock handgun. He is being held at Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset with bail set at $250,000 cash.

Brown survived the shooting, although it caused injuries severe enough that he was put in a medically induced coma for a few days in December.

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