A Presque Isle police officer acted in self-defense and “reasonably believed” there was a threat to himself or others when he shot and killed an intoxicated man who was armed with a knife last May, the state attorney general has concluded.
In the early evening of Saturday, May 7, Presque Isle police officer Lucas Hafford shot 26-year-old Derek Sam of Caribou in an encounter on Main Street in Presque Isle. Sam died three days later at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor from three gunshot wounds that damaged a lung, a kidney and his liver.
The encounter began when a 911 call reported that Sam was walking around an area near McDonald’s appearing “very intoxicated,” carrying a 4-inch knife and bleeding from what were later determined to be self-inflicted knife wounds, according to a report released Monday by the office of Attorney General Janet Mills.
Hafford responded to the call and confronted Sam in the parking lot of the Card Smart gift shop, ordering him to drop the knife multiple times. Over the course of the encounter, Sam walked away from Hafford, fell on the ground multiple times, stood up and walked toward the officer, according to the report.
When Sam initially walked toward Hafford, the officer unsuccessfully deployed a Taser from 15 to 20 feet away, according to the report. Witnesses told the AG’s office that they saw Sam “pull the [Taser’s] dual prongs from his torso.” Hafford continued ordering Sam to stop and drop the knife, while walking backward and maintaining a distance of about 30 feet, while at one point Sam said “just shoot me,” according to the AG report.
Sam continued walking toward Hafford, faster than the officer was walking backward, the report states. When the distance between them narrowed to about 10 feet, Hafford fired three shots, hitting Sam in the stomach area.
A bystander filmed part of the encounter and the shooting and uploaded it to YouTube. Within several days, the video was removed from the site.
The attorney general’s office, which investigates all uses of deadly force by police in the state, concluded that “at the time Officer Hafford shot Mr. Sam, he reasonably believed that there was an imminent threat of unlawful deadly force.”
The attorney general’s office said the conclusions are based on interviews with 19 witnesses, “an extensive forensic investigation, a review of all the evidence available from all sources, and a thorough legal analysis.”
The report said it was “beyond the scope” of the investigation and the “authority and expertise” of the AG’s office “to determine with any reasonable certainty Mr. Sam’s motivations, his state of mind, or the psychological underpinnings of his behavior and actions.”
Sam suffered from alcoholism, according to his longtime girlfriend, with whom he had three children. The report by the attorney general said that Sam’s blood alcohol level was measured at 0.246 percent, three times the legal limit set for drivers.
Hafford was placed on administrative leave following the shooting, as is standard practice, and has since returned and remains on the police force.
The AG report indicated there are two requirements to consider whether an individual, including a police officer, legally used deadly force in self-defense or defense of a third party. The person “must actually and reasonably believe that there is an imminent threat of deadly force against the person or against someone else; and, second, the person must actually and reasonably believe it is necessary to use deadly force to counter that threat,” according to the report.
The shooting last May was one of three law enforcement-involved shootings in the last two years in Aroostook County that were later determined to meet the criteria for self-defense by the attorney general.
In October 2014, a Maine State Police trooper shot and killed Alan Gillotti in an armed encounter in Ludlow, following an armed home invasion in Bridgewater earlier in the day. In February 2015, an Aroostook County deputy and Maine State Police sergeant shot and killed Kenneth Kreyssig in Smyrna, after they encountered him armed in a home while performing a well-being check on his elderly mother.