For Immediate Release
February 9, 2010
Senior Assistant Attorney General Janice K. Rundles
James C. Vara, Attorney
New Hampshire Attorney General Michael A. Delaney announces that the Attorney General's office has made a preliminary determination that the officer-involved shooting in Keene on February 2, 2010 by Keene Police Officer Josh English was a justifiable use of deadly force.
On Tuesday night, February 2, 2010, at approximately 9:42 p.m., Keene Police Officers T.J. Derendal and Josh English were both dispatched to 48 Spruce St. in response to a 911 call placed by an eighteen-year-old female who resided there. She reported that her mother's ex-boyfriend, Chuck Turcotte, had broken into the house and taken her mother, Hae Whitcomb, to her bedroom on the second floor. She reported that Turcotte was yelling at her mother; that she was afraid for her mother's safety; and that the family had called the police a short time ago about Turcotte, when he was threatening to kill himself. She also stated that she did not know what had happened to her sixteen year old brother (her brother made a separate 911 call from a neighbor's house, as recounted below).
Officers Derendal and English arrived within two minutes and entered the home on Spruce Street carrying their police department issued AR-15 rifles. The eighteen-year-old female, who was on the first floor, directed them to the second floor bedroom of her mother.
When the officers entered the bedroom, Ms. Whitcomb was sitting on the bed, and Turcotte was standing near her, armed with a knife with a blade that was approximately 8 inches long. There was also a rifle leaning against a bureau immediately inside the bedroom door (this later turned out to be a BB gun owned by Turcotte, as explained further below). When Turcotte saw the officers, he went over to the bed, grabbed Ms. Whitcomb and held her from behind, while holding the knife near her side. At this point, and throughout the rest of the confrontation, Turcotte was sitting on the bed behind Ms. Whitcomb, holding her in front of him and crouching down behind her.
The two officers pointed their weapons at Turcotte and told him to drop the knife. He refused to do so, and ordered them to leave, saying repeatedly that he "wanted just 5 minutes alone with her." The officers responded that they could not leave, but that if he would drop the knife, they would handcuff him and he then could have 5 minutes to talk to Ms. Whitcomb. Turcotte refused this.
Officer Derendal notified his dispatcher that Turcotte had a knife to the throat of the female and that it was a hostage situation. Other officers quickly arrived on scene, including Sgt. Steve Tenney of the Keene police department, who went to the upstairs hallway of the house armed with a shotgun loaded with less-lethal ammunition. Lt. Steve Stewart also arrived at the house while the confrontation was ongoing and relieved Officer Derendal. Before he entered the bedroom, Lt. Stewart took the less-lethal shotgun from Sgt. Tenney. For the remainder of the confrontation with Turcotte, Officer English, armed with his rifle, and Lt. Stewart, armed with the less-lethal shotgun, were the only two officers within sight of Turcotte, until the arrival of the police department's hostage negotiator. Approximately five other Keene police officers and three State Troopers from Troop C also arrived at the scene but stayed outside or in the downstairs of the house.
Lt. Stewart and Officer English continued to plead with Turcotte to put down the knife. Turcotte continued to refuse and to order the officers to leave. In between yelling at the officers and ordering them from the house, Turcotte would yell at Ms. Whitcomb. Turcotte's level of agitation continued to increase, and eventually he raised the knife and held it against Ms. Whitcomb's throat. The area within which this was occurring was very small; the two officers, standing just inside the bedroom, were no more than 8 feet away from Turcotte and Ms. Whitcomb on the bed. Due to the fact that they were standing in front of Turcotte and Ms. Whitcomb, and due to the fact that Turcotte was crouching behind Ms. Whitcomb, neither officer had the ability to safely take a shot, lethal or non-lethal, at Turcotte. Both Lt. Stewart and Officer English heard Turcotte make threatening remarks toward Ms. Whitcomb. Lt. Stewart thought he heard Turcotte say: "Didn't you say you wanted to die today?" Officer English remembered Turcotte saying: "What did I tell you? It was either going to be me or you tonight."
Officer Steve Corrigan, a trained hostage negotiator for the Keene Police Department, arrived at 48 Spruce Street and went upstairs. Before Officer Corrigan entered the bedroom, Lt. Stewart explained to Turcotte that an officer who was trained for this type of situation wanted to talk to him. As Officer Corrigan entered the room, Officer English and Lt. Stewart shifted to the left. At this point, Officer English, who was to the left of Lt. Stewart, for the first time was at an angle to Turcotte to allow him to shoot him without endangering Ms. Whitcomb.
Turcotte became more agitated when Officer Corrigan entered the bedroom, saying: "Another one of you guys?" When Corrigan tried to engage him in conversation by asking him how he was, Turcotte responded: "How the fuck do you think I am?" As he was directing these remarks to Officer Corrigan, Turcotte still had his left arm around Ms. Whitcomb and was holding the knife to her throat with his right hand. While Turcotte was turned towards Officer Corrigan, Officer English shot Turcotte once in the side of his head. The bullet was later found to have entered through Turcotte's right cheek.
Ambulance personnel were immediately summoned to the bedroom, and Turcotte was transported to the Cheshire Medical Center, where he later died. At the hospital, it was discovered that, in addition to the knife Turcotte had held on Ms. Whitcomb at the scene, he was carrying another open knife in his pocket. Ms. Whitcomb was not physically injured during the incident. The firearms of all officers who had been in the upstairs of the house during the incident were secured and checked by other officers. No other weapon had been discharged by any officer during this event, and only one shot was fired by Officer English.
It was later determined that the incident had begun at approximately 9:30 that evening when the sixteen-year-old son of Hae Whitcomb heard a noise in the basement of the house. He went part way down the basement stairs and could see that there was someone down there, though he could not see who it was. He went to get his mother, who had already gone to bed for the night. The two of them went back down the basement stairs, the son having armed himself with a Japanese samurai sword. Ms. Whitcomb's son saw Charles Turcotte crouching in a corner of the basement where the washer and dryer, as well as the fuse box for the home, were located. When the son asked Turcotte what he was doing there, Turcotte responded: "I'll show you what I'm doing here," and began to approach the son. At this point, Ms. Whitcomb's son ran out of the basement and out of the home to a friend's house in the neighborhood, from where he called 911. At this point, Ms. Whitcomb's daughter, who was in her room on the first floor of the house, heard and saw Turcotte forcing her mother up the stairs to her second floor bedroom. She thought Turcotte had something in his hand, but did not know if he was armed.
Ms. Whitcomb told police that Turcotte had been living with her until January 6, 2010, when she ended their relationship and told him to move out of her house. On January 8, she returned home from work to find Turcotte there with her two children. He had brought two knives with him to the house and showed her one that he had stuck into the floor of her bedroom. He told her that if they could not be together, he was going to kill himself. The family called the Keene police and reported the events. By the time police arrived, Turcotte had left. Ms. Whitcomb stated that she and her children would go somewhere else for the weekend and that she would get a restraining order on Monday. The Keene police attempted to locate Turcotte, but were unable to do so until several days later. At that point, Turcotte told the police that he had found a new place to live and was trying to put his life back together. In a follow-up contact with Ms. Whitcomb, she reported that Turcotte had sent her several text messages indicating that he was feeling better and trying to get his life in order. However, in the days that led up to February 2, Turcotte began calling and text messaging Ms. Whitcomb begging her to get back together with him. Sometime during February 2, he sent her a text message with a picture of him, and another with a picture of a gun.
On the night of February 2, Ms. Whitcomb confirmed that Turcotte was armed with a large knife as he forced her from the basement up to her bedroom on the second floor. He told her he wanted to talk to her about their recent break-up. He told her that he knew the police would be coming, and that when they did, he planned to pick up the BB rifle that belonged to him and was still in the bedroom. He pointed the knife at her and told her it would be her fault if he died. He forced her down on the bed and was on top of her holding the knife on her for a time. When the police arrived, he had gotten up and was smoking a cigarette. When the officers entered the bedroom, he grabbed her and held her in front of him while sitting on the bed. He was holding the knife to her throat. Ms. Whitcomb confirmed that Turcotte kept telling the officers to leave so he could have 5 minutes with her, and that the officers told him they would give him 5 minutes with her if he put down the knife and allowed them to put handcuffs on him. She also confirmed that shortly after the negotiator entered the bedroom, Turcotte was shot.
State Police investigators from the Major Crime Unit were able to determine that Turcotte apparently entered the home by cutting a screen and opening a basement window. On the floor of the basement, they found an open bag of large zip-ties. Turcotte's truck was later located parked around the corner from Ms. Whitcomb's house. In addition, State Police investigators interviewed a woman from Winchester, at whose home Turcotte had been staying since his beak-up from Ms. Whitcomb. She told police that Turcotte had been drinking when he returned to her home on the evening of February 2, and that he was despondent over the end of his relationship with Ms. Whitcomb. Turcotte left her home around 8:20 p.m., after searching for something in her basement and asking her if she had any duct tape. After he left, she began text-messaging him, asking him to come back. He text-messaged her back, talking about suicide, and, at one point, telling her that he wasn't coming back and that he was "on a mission from God." Investigators later recovered two suicide notes apparently written by Turcotte.
Pursuant to RSA 627:5, II(a), a law enforcement officer is justified in using deadly force when he reasonably believes such force is necessary to defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes is the imminent use of deadly force. "Deadly force" means any assault or confinement which is committed with the purpose of causing or which the perpetrator knows will create a substantial risk of causing death or serious bodily injury. RSA 627:9, II. In addition, RSA 627:5, II(b) permits a law enforcement officer to use deadly force when he reasonably believes such force is necessary to effect the arrest of a person whom he reasonably believes has committed or is committing a felony involving the use of force or violence, or who otherwise indicates that he is likely to seriously endanger human life or inflict serious bodily injury unless apprehended without delay, and the officer has made reasonable efforts to advise the person that he is a law enforcement officer attempting to effect an arrest and has reasonable grounds to believe that the person is aware of these facts.
State Police Major Crime Unit and Troop C officers interviewed the witnesses to these events, including Officer English, Ms. Whitcomb, and her two children. Following a review of these interviews, which were all recorded, the evidence found by scene investigators, the Keene Police Department dispatch logs and 911 tapes, and the police report regarding Turcotte's threatened suicide on January 8, the Attorney General's Office has concluded that Officer English was justified, under both RSA 627, II(a) and (b), in using deadly force against Charles Turcotte. Turcotte had broken into the home of Ms. Whitcomb armed with two knives, and with the evident intent to confine and/or harm Ms. Whitcomb and, possibly, her children. He had confined Ms. Whitcomb at knifepoint and was holding her against her will and refusing to surrender and be arrested for the crimes he was committing. In addition, when he was shot, Turcotte was holding a knife to the throat of Ms. Whitcomb and had been doing so for several minutes while refusing to drop the knife and becoming increasingly agitated. The officers repeatedly begged Turcotte to drop the knife and allow himself to be handcuffed. They even agreed to let Turcotte have 5 minutes to talk to Ms. Whitcomb if he complied with these requests. Mr. Turcotte repeatedly refused these requests and instead demanded that the officers leave him alone with Ms. Whitcomb. Throughout the confrontation, Turcotte continued to escalate the severity of the incident. He first held the knife to Ms. Whitcomb's side; then moved it to her throat but held it against his hand. Finally, he moved the knife up against Ms. Whitcomb's throat. He refused all attempts by the officers to defuse the situation. The presence of the Keene Police Department's hostage negotiator only seemed to further increase his anger and aggressiveness, to the point where the officers feared that he would cut Ms. Whitcomb with the knife. As a consequence, Officer English shot Mr. Turcotte in order to prevent the imminent use of deadly force by him against Ms. Whitcomb and in order to effectuate his arrest under circumstances where Turcotte was endangering human life by refusing to submit to arrest.
A comprehensive written report concerning this investigation will be issued by the Attorney General's Office in the future.
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