Attorney general clears state trooper in fatal Dover-Foxcroft shooting

Posted July 09, 2012, at 12:59 p.m.
Last modified July 09, 2012, at 7:24 p.m.
Jon Brown
Maine Department of Public Safety
Jon Brown
Crime scene tape flies in the wind at the Piscataquis Valley Fairgrounds on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011.
Crime scene tape flies in the wind at the Piscataquis Valley Fairgrounds on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011.

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Maine Attorney General William J. Schneider has concluded that Maine State Police Trooper Jon Brown was justified in the shooting death of Michael Curtis on Nov. 29, 2011.

The report, released late Monday morning, related how Curtis drove that November day to Hilltop Manor in Dover-Foxcroft where shortly after 9 a.m. he shot to death his wife’s ex-husband, 53-year-old Udo Schneider. The report then focuses mostly on what happened after that shooting, when Curtis engaged in a standoff with police at the Piscataquis Valley Fairgrounds before he too was shot and killed.

Curtis, 46, left his Sangerville home shortly after 9 a.m. after getting into an argument with his wife, according to the document. He then confronted Schneider outside the assisted living home in Dover-Foxcroft where Curtis fired 12 times at Schneider with his .40-caliber Glock semiautomatic pistol in view of several of the victim’s co-workers.

One of the workers called 911 as Curtis left Hilltop Manor in his white Ford pickup.

Police officers from Dover-Foxcroft, Dexter, Milo, Brownville, the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Office and the Maine State Police responded to the call, according to the report.

Dover-Foxcroft police Lt. Scott Arno spotted Curtis’ truck and followed it to the Piscataquis County Fairgrounds about 9:36 a.m.

At about 9:43 a.m., Maine Drug Enforcement Agent David Wilson also arrived at the fairgrounds and took position in an open-sided building more than 800 feet west of Curtis’ location. While looking through binoculars, he saw Curtis leaning against the back of the pickup while not wearing a shirt. Though Wilson personally knew Curtis, who was a Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Office dispatcher at the time, the MDEA agent did not recognize him.

At the time, according to the report, Curtis had a blood alcohol content of 0.216 percent.

About two minutes after he arrived at the fairgrounds, Wilson looked away to use his radio when he heard four gunshots coming from Curtis’ location. Wilson looked again through his binoculars and he saw that Curtis hadn’t moved and concluded that Curtis fired into the air, according to the report.

Trooper Brown, who had been in Ripley when he responded to the state police radio broadcast of the shooting at Hilltop Manor, arrived on scene at the fairgrounds at 9:53 a.m. At that point, Brown had only heard radio traffic from the state police broadcast and not any Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department radio broadcast nor radio conversations among other responding officers, according to the attorney general’s report. Brown was not aware that Curtis was communicating with the Sheriff’s Department through a two-way radio on the fire frequency channel.

At the same time Brown arrived, Piscataquis County Sheriff John Goggin spoke to Curtis over the radio, asking him to drop his gun and telling Curtis that no one would hurt him.

Curtis acknowledged the announcement, but did not put down his weapon, according to the report. Despite dissent from other officers, Goggin started walking toward Curtis, who was about 800 feet away.

Brown, who had his service weapon and a rifle, was unaware of Curtis’ exact location when he arrived. Brown found Wilson and saw the other officers at the open-sided building containing farm machinery. Wilson concluded that these were all of the officers on scene, according to the report. Brown was unaware Sheriff Goggin had communicated with Curtis and was walking toward him.

Brown took a prone position on the ground near the building and told Curtis to “show your hands.” When Curtis failed to do so, Brown fired three rounds from his rifle at Curtis. All three rounds struck the pickup, but didn’t hit Curtis. After Brown’s first shot, Curtis fired one shot into the air and still did not put the gun down.

“Surprised by Trooper Brown’s action in firing the shots at Mr. Curtis, other officers in the open building next to him, including … Sheriff Goggin, admonished him for his actions,” the report states.

At that point, Brown learned that others were communicating with Curtis and that Goggin intended to walk out into the field to meet with Curtis.

As Goggin proceeded to walk toward Curtis, Brown yelled at the sheriff to “get out of the field.” Goggin ignored Brown’s warnings and continued walking toward Curtis.

As the sheriff closed the distance between himself and Curtis, Brown and Dexter police Sgt. Kevin Wintle, who is now Dexter’s police chief, moved to a better vantage point north of Curtis.

“When Trooper Brown found a spot where he had a closer and clearer view of Mr. Curtis, he aimed and fired one round at Mr. Curtis,” read the report. “At the time of the shot, Mr. Curtis was still armed and was looking in the direction of Sheriff Goggin, who was less than 150 feet from him.”

Brown was about 500 feet from Curtis when he fired the shot. Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Margaret Greenwald later concluded that the bullet entered the right posterior chest of Curtis and exited the left lateral chest.

Curtis was rushed to Mayo Regional Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft, where he died a short time later.

“Attorney General William. J. Schneider has concluded that at the time Trooper Brown fired the shot that resulted in Mr. Curtis’ death, it was reasonable for Trooper Brown to believe that deadly force was imminently threatened against Sheriff Goggin, if not others, and it was reasonable for Trooper Brown to believe that it was necessary for him to use deadly force to counter that imminent threat of deadly force,” the report states.

The report said Curtis’ Glock had a total capacity of 16 rounds. The investigation revealed that Curtis fired 12 rounds at Schneider. Another five shell casings were recovered at the fairgrounds.

“An examination of Mr. Curtis’ pistol after his death disclosed seven live rounds still in the weapon, indicating that Mr. Curtis reloaded the weapon between the time he shot and killed Mr. Schneider and the time he was shot and killed by Trooper Brown,” said the report, adding that several loose live .40 caliber bullets were found in the pickup.

Brown was placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting, which is standard procedure, according to Lt. Col. Raymond Bessette of the Maine State Police. The attorney general’s office investigates any circumstance in which a law enforcement officer uses deadly force.

Col. Robert Williams, chief of the Maine State Police, said Monday that Brown will return to active duty on Aug. 19. He said Brown violated a departmental policy, which prevents him from coming back sooner. Williams wouldn’t indicate what that policy was or if it relates to this case.

“That’s why he’s going to be out for a little longer,” said Williams.

Why Curtis killed Schneider in the first place remains under investigation. Williams said the Maine State Police Major Crimes Unit based in Bangor was compiling information to be sent to the Maine attorney general’s office for review.

Curtis and Schneider, who was born in Germany, worked together as bouncers at the Bear’s Den Tavern in Dover-Foxcroft, said Stephanie Boutilier, a friend of Schneider’s. They got along fine until Curtis got together with Schneider’s ex-wife, she said.

Although there had been no physical confrontation, the two had had arguments about how to raise Schneider’s children, said Boutilier.

Schneider had five children — two lived in Sangerville at the time of his death, while three lived in Germany. He also had eight grandchildren from his children in Germany.

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