CLINTON — A Clinton police officer was legally justified last fall when he shot out the tires of a moving vehicle to stop a reckless driver, the Maine Attorney General’s Office concluded in a report released today.

The report finds that officer Jeffrey Belanger’s use of deadly force was warranted because Jessica A. Rood, of Clinton, ignored police commands to stop and nearly struck Belanger with her car in a parking lot. No one was injured during the incident and Rood was later arrested.

“The attorney general’s investigation and analysis concluded that officer Belanger reasonably believed that deadly force — discharging his firearm at a moving vehicle — was necessary to prevent Ms. Rood from again driving out of the parking lot and seriously endangering human life as demonstrated by her actions up to that point,” the report states.

Belanger is one of two full-time officers at the department; the other is Johnson.

Informed of the report’s conclusion, Clinton Police Chief Craig Johnson said today that he was pleased.

“Given those circumstances,” Johnson said, “the way it went down and the small area that everything took place in, I guess at that point it was the safest option, because everything turned its focus toward officer Belanger and there’s only so much room to jump out of the way.”

Rood, 31, of Clinton, could not be immediately reached for comment.

According to records at Waterville District Court, Rood agreed to a plea bargain that was approved Nov. 5, 2010. She pleaded guilty to charges of refusing to submit to arrest and reckless conduct, and in return the prosecution dismissed a charge of driving to endanger.

Rood was sentenced to 20 days in jail and fined $20, according to court records.

The incident began about 10:30 a.m. Oct. 18, 2010. According to the attorney general’s report, Johnson was contacted by a social worker about a call she had received from Rood, “who told her that she had been drinking coffee brandy since 8 a.m. and was having a tough day.” The social worker couldn’t find Rood at her home and was concerned that Rood was driving intoxicated.
Johnson was familiar with Rood and “also knew from past encounters with Ms. Rood that she was suicidal when consuming alcohol.”

Two hours later, Kennebec County Deputy Sheriff Scott Cyrway contacted Johnson, saying that he had earlier spoken with Rood on the phone after receiving a complaint and warning her to stop harassing another person. Rood sounded depressed and potentially suicidal, Cyrway told Johnson.

About 2 p.m., Cyrway found Rood sitting in the driver’s seat of her vehicle at the Old Mill Park in Clinton. The car doors were locked and the driver’s window was open a few inches; Rood was crying and appeared intoxicated, and she refused to roll down her windows or get out of the car.

“Ms. Rood started the vehicle while making comments that she did not want to go to the hospital, and that she did not care if she hurt herself or anyone else,” the report states. “She placed the vehicle in gear, gripped the steering wheel with both hands, and placed her head on her arms.”

Johnson reached through the slightly open window and unlocked the door. Rood became agitated and stepped on the gas with the police chief’s arm still inside. Johnson moved along with the car and managed to free himself as Rood sped off to Main Street.

“She almost took my arm off,” Johnson said today.

Rood couldn’t be found until about 4 p.m., when officer Belanger received reports and tracked her back to the Old Mill Park, where she was once again in the driver’s seat. Belanger parked his cruiser behind Rood, and she tried to back her car into the cruiser, but Belanger moved out of the way and blocked the parking lot entrance.

Johnson arrived and both officers approached Rood’s car on foot, telling her to turn off the engine and unlock the doors.

“She refused and screamed that she only wanted to die and to leave her alone,” the report states. “Officer Belanger attempted to open the driver’s door of Ms. Rood’s vehicle. Ms. Rood rapidly accelerated. Officer Belanger fired several shots from his service weapon at the driver’s side tires of the vehicle, which resulted in the deflation of both the front and rear tires.”

But Rood continued speeding onto Main Street. Johnson and Belanger pursued her in their cruisers for another 10 minutes until Rood drove into the town office parking lot and was blocked in by both cruisers.

She “aggressively resisted arrest and implored the officers to kill her,” but the officers finally arrested her.

According to Belanger’s affidavit filed in court, Rood’s vehicle came within 2 feet of striking him. Rood, Belanger wrote, “had disregard for the safety of people traveling by on Main Street with their vehicles, as well as disregard for pedestrian safety.”

Under state law, officers are justified in using deadly force if they reasonably believe a person has committed a crime involving “the use or threatened use of deadly force, is using a dangerous weapon in attempting to escape, or otherwise indicates that the person is likely to seriously endanger human life or to inflict serious bodily injury unless apprehended without delay.”

The attorney general concluded Belanger had reasonably believed that using his firearm was necessary to prevent Rood from endangering lives.

The report does not say how many shots Belanger fired, nor does it say whether Rood was interviewed as part of the investigation.

According to court listings published by the Morning Sentinel, Rood has had numerous criminal convictions and jail sentences going back several years.

In 2003, she was convicted on charges of criminal mischief and refusing to submit to arrest. In 2004, she was convicted of violating condition of release, criminal mischief, theft by unauthorized taking and burglary. In 2007, she was convicted of burglary, and in 2008, she was convicted of failure to stop for an officer.