February 26, 2010

Police shooting of fleeing teen leads to lawsuit

DENNIS HOEY

— By

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The parents of a teenager who was shot and killed by a Waldoboro police officer more than two years ago have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit.

The civil action, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Portland, seeks unspecified monetary damages from the former officer and the town of Waldoboro.

Although an investigation by the state Attorney General's Office cleared former reserve officer Zachary Curtis of any criminal wrongdoing, the parents of 18-year-old Gregori Jackson decided to sue.

Natalie and Millard Jackson of Whitefield, a town in Lincoln County, claim Curtis used excessive force while trying to arrest their son in September 2007.

Records from the attorney general's investigation show that Jackson died from five bullet wounds, including three in his lower left back, one to his chest and one to his head -- behind his left ear.

Dr. Marguerite deWitt, the state's deputy chief medical examiner, determined that Jackson's blood-alcohol level was 0.21 percent, more than twice the legal limit for driving, although Jackson was a passenger. No other drugs were detected.

Edward R. Benjamin Jr., an attorney with the Thompson & Bowie law firm in Portland, is representing Curtis and the town of Waldoboro.

Benjamin said Curtis was in a physical struggle with Jackson when the shots were fired at close range. Curtis, who reported that he was being choked, told investigators that Jackson was also trying to wrestle his gun away from him.

''This officer was in a fight for his life with a guy who was highly intoxicated and who was physically much bigger than the officer,'' Benjamin said. ''I think the physical evidence will support my client's story.''

The Jacksons could not be reached Monday, and their attorney, Leonard I. Sharon of Auburn, did not return phone messages.

In an interview with the Portland Press Herald in December 2007, Natalie Jackson said, ''We wanted to see the results of the (attorney general's) investigation. Now we've seen it, and I don't think we're getting the truth. If people think that I'm just going to go away because the AG's Office said 'justified,' they're wrong.''

There were no eyewitnesses to the shooting. Court documents filed by Sharon and Benjamin give an overview of their positions on what happened around 2 a.m. on Sept. 23, 2007.

Gregori Jackson was a passenger in a car being driven by a friend when Curtis, who was 24 years old at the time, stopped the car on Route 220 after it went through a stop sign.

Jackson was asked to step out of the car, but ran away when Curtis tried to arrest him for violating conditions of his bail. At one point, Curtis tried to subdue Jackson with pepper spray, which did not work.

According to the attorney general's report and Benjamin, a foot chase led Curtis into a dark wooded area, where the two men tangled.

Curtis, who says Jackson got on top of him after tackling him, lost his eyeglasses during the struggle. He also says Jackson tried to choke him.

Curtis told investigators that he thought he fired his weapon three times in self-defense. He also said he believed that if Jackson got control of his gun, ''I'm a dead man.''

Lincoln County sheriff's deputies, called by Curtis for backup, arrived in the woods and found Curtis ''on his knees, appearing out of breath and disheveled,'' the AG's report said.

The parents' complaint alleges that Curtis violated the due-process rights of Gregori Jackson, who was unarmed, and that Curtis used excessive force by striking their son with a metal baton and shooting him five times.

Waldoboro Town Manager William Post, who was not yet town manager in 2007, said Curtis resigned from the Waldoboro Police Department last year. Post could not be more specific.

Benjamin said the case could be brought before a jury this summer.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

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