The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld the dismissal of an excessive force lawsuit filed over a Feb. 10, 2017, police shooting in Vassalboro that left two people dead.
The appellate court in Boston found that no reasonable jury could conclude that the Maine State Police trooper who fired the fatal shots knew or should have known that the woman, whom he claimed he did not see, was in the car when he shot at it.
U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker in March 2020 found that Trooper Jeffrey Parks, whose gunshots struck and killed Ambroshia “Amber” Fagre, 18, of Oakland, was not liable for her death. Walker said that Parks was immune from the lawsuit because he intended to fire at suspected burglar Kadhar Bailey, 25, of Gardiner, not Fagre. Bailey also was killed but not by Parks.
The judge also found that under Maine’s qualified immunity law, Parks could not be held legally responsible for her death because he acted reasonably as a law enforcement officer under the circumstances.
The three-judge panel that heard oral arguments in the appeal on Dec. 10 in Boston, agreed with Walker.
Amber Fagre’s mother, Jessica L. Fagre, 40, of Augusta, sued three officers in February 2019. She sought unspecified punitive and compensatory damages and claimed her daughter was “an innocent bystander.” The mother claimed that the officers’ actions were unreasonable and illegal under the circumstances.
Attorneys for Vassalboro Police Chief Mark Brown, Maine State Police Lt. Scott Ireland and Parks filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Bangor over the following month. Walker dismissed Brown and Ireland from the lawsuit in May 2019 but did not grant Parks’ summary judgement motion, finding him not liable for Fagre’s death, until March 2020.
Walker found that Amber Fagre, whom Ireland saw in Bailey’s truck, told police she was waiting for her boyfriend to return. Bailey was suspected of tying up a nearby homeowner at gunpoint and ransacking the house. After speaking with the woman, Ireland went to the home in search of a suspected armed burglar.
Brown arrived to assist and stayed with Amber Fagre and the Dodge Durango in which she was sitting. Brown saw Bailey approaching with a gun, drew his own firearm and ordered Bailey to stop, Walker said.
Bailey continued to approach Brown, Fagre and the Durango. Brown took cover on the driver-side hood of the vehicle while Fagre remained in the passenger seat, the judge found. Brown then fired at Bailey and took cover behind a nearby snowbank. Bailey returned fire, got in the Dodge Durango, and began to drive.
Parks arrived on the scene to the sound of gunshots just as Ireland returned to the scene, the judge said. As Bailey drove toward Parks’ cruiser, Parks fired several rounds into the Durango, which stopped when it crashed into Parks’ cruiser.
“Armed with a patrol rifle, Lieutenant Ireland approached the driver side of the Durango,” Walker said. “When he observed Bailey reaching for something in the vehicle, Lieutenant Ireland fired a shot at Bailey, killing him.”
Amber Fagre suffered a serious gunshot wound but was conscious and aware of her injury. She died later that day at a local hospital.
The Maine attorney general’s office ruled in March 2018 that the officers were justified in their use of deadly force. That investigation found that Ireland shot and killed Bailey and that Fagre’s death was accidental.
The office declined to comment Thursday on the 1st Circuit Court’s ruling.
Jessica Fagre’s attorney, Hunter Tzovarros of Bangor, did not immediately return a request for comment.