When Maine State Trooper Jason Wing fired three shots from his state-issued sidearm in June, 18-year-old James Reynolds was struck each time.
One of the hollow-point .45-caliber rounds shattered a bone in Reynolds’ left forearm. A second slug entered behind the teen’s right knee and lodged near his kneecap.
The third struck him in the head, above and behind his right ear. According to Reynolds’ medical records, some of which were provided to the Maine Sunday Telegram, the bullet entered at an angle, driving pieces of bone and shrapnel forward and down toward the brain’s center line.
The order of the injuries is unclear. A report by the Maine Attorney General’s Office that determined Wing was legally justified in his use of deadly force did not specify the precise bullet entry points or the wounding patterns, saying only that Reynolds was injured in the head, arm and leg.
James’ Reynolds’ mother has said the locations of the wounds raise doubts about the state’s finding that the teen was pointing a gun at the trooper. However, the Attorney General’s Office and two independent experts say wound patterns are not conclusive evidence.
According to investigators, Wing said that when Reynolds appeared near an unoccupied shed in West Paris, he had objects in both hands and stood in a “bladed” stance, his right shoulder closer to the trooper, so that the object in Reynolds’ left hand was not clearly visible. When Wing recognized Reynolds was holding a rifle, the report says, he issued commands to drop it. Before he fired, Wing said, Reynolds changed position, so that he had both hands on the weapon, leveling it at Wing.
Investigators were barred from interviewing Reynolds by his attorney, and did not have access to his medical records, relying instead on testimony from police officers who administered first aid on the scene.
The first police officer to arrive after the shooting was Oxford County Sheriff’s Deputy William Nelson, who wrote in a report: “It looked as though he had an entry wound somewhere at the top of his forehead and the bullet exited out the top of his head.”
Oxford County Sheriff’s Sgt. Tim Ontengco arrived about 20 minutes after Reynolds was shot and wrote in his incident report that he saw wounds to Reynolds forehead, right knee and left arm.
“When a family or a party refuses to cooperate or declines to share protected medical or other records, we cannot guess at their content or their relevancy,” said Tim Feeley, spokesman for Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills. “The location of gunshot wounds is of interest but is not determinative of whether the other party reasonably felt in fear of deadly force at the second the shot was fired.”
By law, investigations into the use of deadly force examine the totality of the circumstances to determine whether an officer actually and reasonably believed that unlawful deadly force is imminently threatened, and that the officer’s use of deadly force is required to counter that threat.
Experts in the use of deadly force say that wounding patterns are not as indicative as they may seem to the untrained eye.
Dr. Alexis Artwohl, an Arizona-based researcher and clinical psychologist who advises police departments nationwide, said that in a rapidly unfolding encounter, a police officer’s brain takes time to recognize and react to a subject’s actions, putting him “behind the reaction curve.”
Once an officer decides to shoot, the trigger is usually pulled repeatedly as fast as possible, on average about 2.5 times per second, she said.
“It takes time to recognize the threat is over … and it takes time to stop pulling the trigger,” Artwohl said.
Urey Patrick, another expert on the use of force, who helped the FBI recalibrate its deadly force policies, said that people involved in shootings are often in constant motion during the confrontation. He said the imperative question is whether the officer felt an imminent threat against himself or someone else – not where the shots land.
“Bullet wounds often end up in places no one can explain because the officer is moving, twisting, turning, responding, and the person is moving, turning, twisting, responding,” Patrick said. “When the bullet meets the subject, it’s not where you thought they were.”
Staff Writer Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at: