BELFAST, Maine — Benjamin Thompson held his head in his hands and rocked back and forth at the defendant’s table Monday morning at Waldo County Superior Court while jurors watched a video that showed him getting shot four times by a Belfast police officer last summer.
It was the first day of the 28-year-old Iraq War combat veteran’s criminal trial for the felony charge of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon as well as several less serious charges, including failure to stop for a police officer and operating a vehicle under the influence of intoxicants with one prior conviction.
Before the video was shown to the courtroom, Officer Daniel Fitzpatrick, who shot Thompson late on the night of June 8, 2012, took the stand and described the events that led up to the shooting. Fitzpatrick said that after Thompson’s SUV was pulled over, Thompson stepped out holding a shotgun and pointed it at the officer.
“It happened in an eyeblink,” he said of his confrontation with Thompson. “I thought I was going to die if that thing discharged. I thought he was going to kill me.”
According to police, the trouble had begun a little earlier in Searsport, when an officer tried to stop a Jeep Cherokee with a loud exhaust pipe and a broken license plate light. But Thompson, who was at the wheel, did not stop for Searsport Officer Eric Marcel, and Fitzpatrick and Officer Matthew Cook of the Belfast Police Department heard the radio report that the driver was heading their way. They waited for the Jeep at the intersection of Swan Lake Avenue and Smart Road, and when it passed their cruisers, they pursued it, watching as it swerved continually from side to side on the two-lane road. Then it stopped for them, and when Thompson got out of the vehicle, he already had the shotgun in his hands, Fitzpatrick testified.
Thompson was standing just out of the frame of the police video camera and his shotgun wasn’t visible, but jurors heard the sound of popping as Fitzpatrick fired his semiautomatic .45 handgun. Then they saw Thompson keel to the ground and start screaming in anguish.
“You win,” the U.S. Marine shouted out to the officers, who patted down the wounded veteran and put handcuffs on him. Then began a 14-minute wait for the ambulance to arrive at the scene, which was lit by flashing blue police lights.
“I want to die,” Thompson screamed on the video. “Please let me die. Please let me die. Kill me. Kill me. It hurts.”
After the video was shown, Deputy District Attorney Eric Walker asked what was going through Fitzpatrick’s head after the shooting.
“Oh, my God,” the officer replied. “I could be dead. I could be maimed. This isn’t something you ever expect to happen in Belfast, Maine.”
Thompson’s defense attorney Steven Peterson of Rockport said that his client has no memory of that night, and that watching the video was very hard for him. He said that his client’s defense is based on the “abnormal state of mind” statute. His client suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by his military service, Peterson said.
“If there’s evidence of an abnormal condition of mind, it can create a reasonable doubt about anyone,” he said.
Peterson said that he is not contesting the misdemeanor charges, nor is he disputing that Thompson’s blood alcohol level registered at .14 percent that night — nearly twice the legal limit.
On Tuesday, the second and likely last day of the jury trial, military-related witnesses will testify to Thompson’s state of mind, Peterson said.
Fitzpatrick shot Thompson in the thigh and stomach and he was transported to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor for treatment. Thompson told the BDN earlier this year that he was in a coma for three days and in the hospital for two weeks.
The officer was placed on administrative leave for a few weeks after the shooting but returned to regular duty in July after the Belfast Police Department conducted an internal review of the incident.
The Maine attorney general’s office also investigated and found that Fitzpatrick was justified in using deadly force when he shot and seriously wounded Thompson.