CYR PLANTATION, Maine — The longtime companion of a local man who was fatally shot by police in what the state Attorney General’s Office later deemed a justified shooting is suing the state, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the officers involved for violating the victim’s state and federal constitutional rights.
Neil Begin was shot by a Maine State Police trooper and a U.S. Border Patrol agent on April 23, 2010, inside the 54-year-old’s U.S. Route 1 mobile home. Sandra Parent, who was Begin’s live-in companion for 30 years and was named personal representative of his estate, filed the suit on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Bangor. The officers named in the four-count lawsuit are Trooper Robert Flynn and Border Patrol Agents Robert Kipler and Rick Romann.
The Attorney General’s Office ruled last July that Flynn and Kipler were justified in shooting an intoxicated Begin after they were called to his home to investigate a complaint of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon.
According to the attorney general’s report on the shooting, early on the morning of April 23, Begin ordered Parent to leave and take their adult son and the son’s girlfriend with her. Begin threatened them repeatedly with a hunting rifle, and while they were packing clothes to leave, he grabbed his son by the throat, threw him against a wall and threatened to kill him, according to the report.
After a family member called police, Flynn interviewed witnesses and confirmed with the District Attorney’s Office in Caribou that he had probable cause to arrest Begin. Flynn met with the two agents who agreed to follow him to Begin’s home, where they arrived about 11 a.m. to arrest him on a charge of felony criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon.
Flynn entered an open porch, according to the report, and repeatedly told Begin through the door to show his hands and “leave the gun inside.” He saw Begin through a window running to the other end of the home with a gun in his hand. After breaking down the locked door, the officers saw Begin at the end of a hallway and heard him working the bolt action of a rifle, according to the attorney general’s report.
Though the officers repeatedly ordered Begin to drop his rifle, he reportedly refused and told the officers to get out of his house.
According to the report, the officers saw Begin moving his left hand to the rifle and leveling it at waist level toward the officers.
“Believing that Begin was about to fire the rifle, Trooper Flynn fired his service pistol and Officer Kipler fired a patrol rifle at Begin,” the report states.
Begin fled behind a wall and a few seconds later reappeared in the hallway with the rifle still in his hands, according to the report. Flynn and Kipler fired again and Begin fell to the floor.
An autopsy later revealed that Begin was struck five times by gunfire and died from a gunshot wound to the abdomen at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor on April 24. At the time of his hospitalization, Begin’s blood alcohol level was 0.248 percent, according to the report.
Much of the attorney general’s investigation was based on an audio recording of the incident, which was captured on a microphone worn by Flynn. According to the recording, Flynn could be heard ordering Begin to drop the gun and telling Begin that he heard him “rack” the bolt action of the rifle. Seventy-two seconds later, Flynn told Begin not to move his hand or he would shoot, according to the attorney general’s report, and Flynn and Kipler were heard commanding Begin to drop the rifle throughout the remainder of the audio.
Evidence recovered from the mobile home included a bolt-action .30-06 rifle, a semiautomatic .22-caliber rifle and several marijuana plants.
In the lawsuit, Parent’s attorney, Peter Kelley of Caribou, claims that Begin did not have a loaded weapon with him when confronted by police and never fired on them when they broke into his home.
“He had a weapon, but it was not loaded or fired,” said Kelley. “This is a tragic incident that we feel could have been prevented.”
Kelley also alleges in count one that the defendants intentionally committed acts and omissions, while acting under color of state and federal law, that violated Begin’s clearly established constitutional rights, including his right to bear arms, his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and his right to be free from use of excessive force in the conduct of a search or seizure, rights which are guaranteed under the Second, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Count two alleges similar violations of rights as guaranteed under the Maine Constitution and the Maine Civil Rights Act.
Count three alleges that the defendants committed battery on Begin with actions that were “unlawful, reckless, wanton, disproportionate to the amount of force necessary to perform their duties, outside the scope of their discretionary function, and otherwise done in bad faith.”
Count four alleges that the defendants violated Begin’s rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Court documents state that Begin suffered from “various physical disorders” and had not worked in several years.
In court documents, Parent claims that she assured Flynn that Begin was not dangerous when the trooper came to the mobile home and that she could “talk him out” of the state he was in. She claims that Flynn prevented her from diffusing the situation. Kelley alleges that Begin had no means to escape from his mobile home because police were blocking the sole exit and that he made no attempt to escape. He alleges that the defendants made no effort to diffuse the situation by talking Begin out of his home or allowing Parent to talk to him, and that they didn’t use tear gas or other disarming agents before using deadly force. The suit also claims that the three officers and their agencies did not have adequate or appropriate policies in place and did not adequately train its police officers with respect to use of nonlethal tactics and methods for taking into protective custody qualified individuals with physical and mental disabilities such as Begin.
Parent is seeking reasonable damages for herself and the estate, punitive damages, court and attorneys fees and any other relief deemed just and proper.
A phone number for Parent could not be found. A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office said Thursday that the office could not comment on pending cases.