Parents of troubled veteran killed by police officer 2 years ago sue chief, town

Justin Crowley-Smilek
Courtesy photo
Justin Crowley-Smilek
Posted Dec. 02, 2013, at 5:35 a.m.
Last modified Dec. 02, 2013, at 3:06 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — The parents of a veteran suffering from PTSD who was shot and killed more than two years ago in front of the Farmington police station have filed a wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit against the police chief, the town and the officer who shot Justin Michael Crowley-Smilek on Nov. 19, 2011.

The Maine attorney general’s office in May 2012 found that Officer Ryan Rosie was justified in shooting Crowley-Smilek, 26, of Farmington. The report said that Rosie took cover behind a police cruiser after Crowley-Smilek ignored demands that he take his hands out of his pockets. Rosie fired after the veteran took a butcher knife out of his pocket and charged at the officer.

Crowley-Smilek, who served in Afghanistan, suffered from combat stress and physical injuries from service and had been ordered to seek treatment shortly before the confrontation with police, according to a previously published report. The lawsuit claims the veteran went to the Farmington police station the day he was killed to ask for help “regarding mental health services.”

“Officer Rosie never called for backup or retreated back inside the police station,” the complaint said.

The lawsuit claims that Rosie panicked and continued to fire at Crowley-Smilek after he was incapacitated. The officer fired at least seven times, with one bullet striking Crowley-Smilek in the back, the complaint said.

The complaint also alleges that Farmington Police Chief Jack Peck and the town failed to properly supervise Rosie, in part because the officer was not required to attend the Maine Criminal Justice Academy before being allowed to work and carry a gun.

Rosie was never trained “regarding the use of deadly force” or “in dealing with individuals with mental illness or in tactics to defuse a potential confrontation with a person in a crisis situation,” the lawsuit claims.

Ruth E. Crowley of Portland, Ore., and Michael W. Smilek of Farmington were appointed the personal representatives of their son’s estate in March 2012 by Somerset County Probate Judge John Alsop. The case was moved to Somerset County because the parents’ attorney, Richard Morton, is the probate judge for Franklin County.

An answer to the complaint is due on Dec. 9, according to information filed on the court’s electronic case filing system.

Douglas Ian Louison, the Boston attorney representing Rosie, Peck and the town, said Monday that the attorney general’s report and the facts of the case show that Rosie’s actions were appropriate “given the very difficult circumstances the officer was presented with.”

Hunter Tzovarras, the Bangor attorney representing Crowley and Smilek in the wrongful death suit, originally filed the lawsuit Nov. 13 in Franklin County Superior Court. Louison on Wednesday moved the suit to federal court in Portland. It has been assigned to U.S. District Judge John Woodcock.

The parents are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages along with costs and attorneys’ fees.

Tzovarras said Sunday in an email that he does not believe the attorney general’s ruling on the shooting would have any legal impact on the civil case.

“The AG’s office, I believe, has found every police shooting it ever investigated as justified,” he said. “The jury in the civil case can decide whether the shooting was a reasonable and necessary use of force without any deference to the AG’s findings.”

Tzovarras also represents relatives of the man who, on Nov. 29, 2011, shot his wife’s ex-husband to death and then was shot and killed by a Maine State Police trooper. Family members sued Trooper Jon Brown, his supervisors, the Dexter Police Department and the town of Dexter in July. The lawsuit is pending in federal court in Bangor.

Michael Scott Curtis, 46, left his Sangerville home after an argument with his wife on Nov. 29, 2011, and went to Hilltop Manor in Dover-Foxcroft, where his wife’s ex-husband, Udo Schneider, was working, according to authorities. Curtis shot Schneider, 53, to death and then traveled to the Piscataquis County Fairgrounds, where he eventually was shot and killed by Brown.

Crowley-Smilek’s death led to the creation in 2012 of a special treatment court for veterans facing jail time because of substance abuse and mental health problems. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Maeghan Maloney, D-Augusta, offered it in memory of the Farmington veteran. Maloney now is district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties.

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