Friday, December 6, 2013
BY MATT BYRNE
Portland Press Herald
The Maine state trooper who was placed on administrative after shooting a West Paris teenager in June returned to duty in July even though the attorney general's office has not completed its review of the case.
There is no requirement that officers be kept off duty until such investigations are concluded. Police departments historically waited for the reviews to be finished, but in recent years they have allowed officers who have shot suspects to return to work before the reports are issued because a backlog of cases has led to some investigations taking four months or more to complete.
Meanwhile, the 18-year-old man shot three times by the trooper has moved from a Lewiston hospital into a rehabilitation facility in Portland.
James Reynolds was shot in the leg, arm and head June 8 by Trooper Jason Wing, about a mile from Reynolds' home. Wing encountered Reynolds on Roy Road, where he was called to investigate a report of a suspicious person.
Reynolds was listed in critical condition for several weeks after the shooting as family members wondered if he would live or if he would die.
"He's alive. He's kickin'," Daniel Paine, Reynolds' uncle, said Wednesday. "He's in a Portland rehab."
Paine would not provide further details about Reynolds' condition, where he is in rehabilitation or when he left the hospital. Family members have referred questions to an attorney, who could not be reached Wednesday.
The Office of the Maine Attorney General continues to investigate whether the shooting was justified.
A separate internal state police investigation is also underway that will evaluate whether state police rules and policies were adhered to, and whether the policies themselves are adequate to address the type of incidents that police face, said Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland. Both investigative procedures are standard in cases in which a police officer uses deadly force.
"There is no obvious misconduct," McCausland said Wednesday. "If there was, that would come into play, and that might delay returning to work; but there was nothing in this case."
Last year, a yearlong investigation of police-involved shootings in Maine by the Portland Press Herald found that the in two decades of records made available to the newspaper, the attorney general's office has never determined a police-involved shooting to be unjustified.
Wing, 28, of Rumford, was cleared to return to work July 15 and was back on patrol the next day, according to Lt. Walter Grzyb, who commands Troop B, where Wing is assigned. He had been on paid administrative leave since the incident.
Before he could return to duty, Wing had to pass a psychological evaluation and re-qualify as proficient with his firearm. He probably went though a similar process before. In 2008, Wing fired three shots into the windshield of a pickup truck being driven by Lawrence Lapoint, of Mexico, who was driving his truck toward the officers after he allegedly tried to kill his domestic partner.
No one was injured in that incident, and Wing's use of deadly force in that case was found to be justified.
While the attorney general's office continues its ongoing investigation of the June shooting, a process that could take six months or longer, questions linger about the confrontation between the teen and the trooper.
According to family members, Reynolds, who lives nearby on Sumner Road, left for a walk that evening carrying a walking stick, not a rifle. Police allege that after disappearing into the woods down a snowmobile trail, he emerged on Roy Road, where a neighbor spotted him and called police.
Reynolds then allegedly broke into a nearby seasonal residence, stealing a .35-caliber hunting rifle, some ammunition and four cans of Bud Light beer. Wing encountered Reynolds near the edge of Roy Road and the property of the home that allegedly was broken into, according to witnesses and police.
No charges have been filed for the alleged burglary, but the investigation is considered to be "open and active," McCausland said.
Following the shooting, a state police sergeant said Reynolds was "in possession of" the weapon, although it is unclear whether he was holding it when Wing encountered him. Grzyb declined to clarify whether Reynolds was holding the rifle, citing the ongoing investigation. A call to the attorney general's office was not returned Wednesday, although the agency typically does not comment on an ongoing investigation.
Reynolds' family has retained Lewiston attorney Robert Laskoff, who has not responded to repeated inquiries about Reynolds, including a call placed Wednesday to his office.