A Cumberland County sheriff’s deputy was justified in fatally shooting a suicidal Windham man outside his home in April, the Maine Attorney General’s Office has found.
The investigative report, released Thursday, cleared Deputy Nicholas Mangino of wrongdoing in the death of 66-year-old Stephen McKenney, who is seen holding a gun in a video recording from a dashboard camera in a police cruiser.
“It was reasonable for Deputy Mangino to believe it necessary to use deadly force to protect himself and others in the area from deadly force,” the report said. “Deputy Mangino acted in defense of himself and others who were within range of and in the line of fire of Mr. McKenney’s loaded gun.”
The report says that Mangino fired two rounds from a rifle from 69 feet away as McKenney waved his gun and approached Mangino and his cruiser, where a civilian passenger who had been participating in a ride-along was ducked down in the front seat.
The AG’s office, as it does in all police shootings, conducted an internal investigation, relying on witness statements and video footage from dashboard cameras in the police cruisers at the scene.
The Portland Press Herald requested both the transcript of the 911 call made by McKenney’s wife, Vicki McKenney, before the shooting, and video footage from the shooting. The AG’s office Thursday released only one of three videos taken from cruiser cameras that day. The other two videos were ordered withheld by a superior court justice because of privacy concerns.
Since 1990, the Attorney General’s Office has investigated more than 100 such incidents of officer-involved shootings and found the officers justified in every instance.
To be justified, an officer must believe that deadly force is threatened against the officer or someone else, and that deadly force is necessary to remove the threat. The reviews do not explore whether officers could have responded differently or taken other action.
A Portland Press Herald series in 2012 examined use of deadly force in police incidents involving people with mental illness. The newspaper found at the time that Maine and other states did not use special methods or training that could defuse life-threatening incidents.
The video footage released Thursday shows McKenney waving the gun at one point, roughly five minutes before he is shot off camera. Because of the position of the cruiser, the video does not show exactly what McKenney was doing with the gun immediately before the shooting. While the gunshots are audible, no officers are heard shouting commands at McKenney immediately before shots were fired.
A CONFRONTATION UNFOLDS
Police responded to 2 Searsport Way in Windham, the residence of Vicki and Stephen McKenney, shortly after 6 a.m. on April 12 after receiving a 911 call from Vicki McKenney.
She told dispatchers that her husband, a retired school bus driver, was suicidal and feared for his safety and hers. She said there were guns in the house.
Video from the cruiser of Windham Police officer James Cook shows Vicki emerging from the garage alone as Cook pulls into her driveway. She is crying.
“He’s in the house,” she says.
“Where are the firearms?” an officer asks.
“In the back bedroom,” Vicki replies.
She explains to Cook and another officer, Seth Fournier, that her husband is not on medication, but has been dealing with severe back pain for several months.
“I know he’s flipped,” she says.
Officers ask if anyone else is in the house. Vicki McKenney says no.
The officers then indicate that they planned to enter the home. One of them asks the other to “get your Taser out.” Vicki says on the video that she wants to go inside as well, but officers tell her to stay where she is.
“Police department,” an officer says as he enters the house. “Come on out Stephen.”
McKenney does not appear to respond.
“Stephen, what do you got in your hand,” an officer asks.
“Stephen, put the gun down,” one officer says.
Over the scanner, a dispatcher is heard to say, “there’s a gun.”
An officer repeats the command, “Stephen, put the gun down. We want to get you some help.”
The audio is briefly not audible, but then McKenney says, “You need to back out.”
“Stephen, we’re going to go outside,” an officer replies.
The officers exit the home. One says, “I’m going to get my long gun.”
Vicki McKenney can be heard crying and saying, “Oh my God.”
Less than a minute passes and McKenney emerges from the house and walks around. The video clearly shows McKenney holding a handgun in his right hand.
He walks by the cruiser parked in the driveway. An officer shouts, “drop the gun!”
McKenney appears confused and disoriented. At one point he makes an abrupt hand motion with the gun and points it in the direction of police, then walks out of the camera’s sight.
The audio is largely silent for several seconds, and the only sound is breathing.
McKenney then goes back inside the house, according to police.
At that point, an officer discusses setting up a perimeter around the house. He talks about where the officers are located and refers to Deputy Mangino, “just on the other side” of the house.
Only another minute or so passes before McKenney emerges from the house, according to officers heard but not seen on the video. McKenney does not appear in view of the camera.
“He’s walking toward your car,” one of them says, referring to Mangino’s cruiser, where the civilian was crouching in the front passenger seat trying to stay out of sight.
No other commands are heard from officers on the video.
Then, gunshots are heard, but the shooting takes place out of view.
“Shots fired,” an officer yells.
A dispatcher then is heard saying, “Ambulance up. Ambulance up. Medic up. Medic up.”
WIFE’S LAWYER DISPUTES POLICE ACCOUNT
The report from the Attorney General’s Office said that Mangino had fired two shots, one of them hitting McKenney in the head. He died at the scene.
The report indicates that McKenney waved his gun just before the shooting.
“Mr. McKenney cocked the revolver, raised it, and then slowly lowered it in a motion as if he were seeking a target,” the report said, adding that he appeared to be focused on Mangino. Although the report says Mangino issued several commands to drop the gun before shooting him, those commands cannot be heard on the video.
Daniel Lilley, a Portland attorney who represents Vicki McKenney, has disputed that McKenney was waving his gun at officers just before he was shot.
Lilley said that although the video is dramatic, it doesn’t provide the whole picture.
“My client was watching the entire thing from a cruiser 75 feet away,” said Lilley, who spoke Thursday on his client’s behalf. “She said she could not see a gun in her husband’s hand, which tells me it was by his side.”
The AG’s report differs from Lilley’s account on the point of Vicki McKenney’s location when her husband was shot, saying “Ms. McKenney was escorted to Officer Fournier’s cruiser and driven to a safe location, a cul-de-sac about 284 feet from the residence.” It goes on to say, “As Officer Fournier was about to drive away, he saw Mr. McKenney come out of the residence. He could see that Officer Cook was still near the residence and he informed Officer Cook of Mr. McKenney’s presence outside the residence.”
Lilley acknowledged that McKenney was clearly distraught, particularly in the segment of the video several minutes before the shooting in which he is seen raising the gun.
“If they wanted to shoot him, they should have done it then,” Lilley said.
The Press Herald requested all police footage associated with the incident, but only received the footage from Windham officer Cook’s cruiser.
Two other videos were withheld by Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren because of privacy concerns since they show Vicki McKenney’s “anguished reaction.”
“There is absolutely no public interest that would justify the invasion of Mrs. McKenney’s privacy that would result from the release of these videos,” Warren wrote in his ruling.
However, Lilley plans to request copies of those videos, saying there is nothing in the ruling that prevents Vicki McKenney from seeing them.
Mangino, 25, has been on paid leave pending the investigation. His boss, Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce, deferred all comments Thursday to county attorney Peter Marchesi. He was on vacation and not available for comment.
Lilley said he and his client are considering filing a lawsuit.
“The irony is: She called the police for help and they killed him,” he said.