Maine’s attorney general ruled Tuesday that a state trooper who shot and killed a man in Hollis on Dec. 12 was justified in using deadly force after the man fired a revolver toward the trooper.
The investigation also showed that contrary to initial reports, the trooper fired first in response to the man pointing his gun at the officer’s position 266 feet away. That first shot did not hit John A. Knudsen, 61, of Little Falls Road in Hollis, but the trooper’s second shot did.
Knudsen was despondent over a leg injury that left him with limited mobility. Knudsen, who had battled alcohol addiction for much of his life, had been drinking since early that morning, according to a report from Attorney General Janet T. Mills.
Investigators would later learn that Knudsen’s blood alcohol content was 0.32 percent, four times the legal limit to drive.
Knudsen’s wife of four months, Linda Knudsen, called police to report that he was pointing a handgun at his head and threatening to kill himself. While she was on the phone, Knudsen went outside and fired a round from the gun.
Nine minutes into the call, the dispatcher heard Knudsen say: “The next person who comes in this driveway, I’m going to shoot one, do you understand?” the report said. He said he was planning to shoot himself but then repeated a threat to shoot anyone who entered the driveway.
The dispatcher persuaded Linda Knudsen to leave the house.
She left the phone line open and Knudsen eventually picked it up. He spoke with a dispatcher and then with a Maine State Police negotiator. He refused to surrender and give up his gun, so police summoned the state police tactical team, including Trooper Tyler Stevenson.
Stevenson took up a position alongside another trooper 266 feet away from the front door of Knudsen’s house.
Three hours from the time Knudsen started talking to the dispatcher, and after saying he planned to fire a shot to prove he was armed, Knudsen walked out onto the enclosed porch. Still on the phone, Knudsen stepped into the exterior doorway and raised his gun, “pointing it directly at the area where Trooper Stevenson and Trooper David Coflesky were located,” the report said.
Stevenson fired one shot, which did not hit Knudsen. Knudsen then also fired one shot, which did not hit the officers, the report said.
Stevenson fired again and Knudsen fell onto his back with a fatal gunshot wound to the chest.
Initial reports from state police spokesman Stephen McCausland the day of the confrontation said Knudsen came to the front door, made comments to police and fired a shot, and that Stevenson returned fire. The reports at the time did not indicate that Stevenson, a nine-year veteran of the department, fired first when Knudsen pointed his gun at officers, as the attorney general’s report did.
“I didn’t know that,” said Knudsen’s widow, Linda Knudsen. “What I had been told, quite a while ago, was he fired first and they responded. All I know is he would have never hurt anyone.”
Knudsen said she remains puzzled about the number of shots because she said her husband’s death certificate lists bullet wounds in his abdomen and chest. Police told her that another shot that missed went through the porch window.
Knudsen said she had not seen the attorney general’s report yet and she plans to read the entire investigative file, which she was told is a couple hundred pages.
“It’s going to take awhile for me to get closure on it all,” she said.
Detectives from the Attorney General’s Office and state police investigated the shooting, as is required under state law, so the attorney general can determine whether the use of deadly force is justified.
“It was reasonable for Trooper Stevenson to believe it necessary to use deadly force to protect himself and the other officers from deadly force,” said the attorney general’s report. “Trooper Stevenson acted in the defense of himself and others who were within range of and in the line of fire of Mr. Knudsen’s gun.”
Maine attorneys general have investigated 113 deadly force incidents since 1990. Every shooting was found to be justified.
The report notes that the attorney general’s analysis does not encompass whether police used ideal tactics or could have done something different to avoid the use of deadly force, or whether there is any civil liability, only whether the officer was justified at the moment deadly force was used.
David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: