April 11, 2013

Claim: Biddeford police failed to stop killing of teen

The parents of Derrick Thompson, 19, intend to sue because they say officers knew of threats but left before the shooting.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD — The parents of a Biddeford teenager who was shot dead minutes after police officers left his apartment have notified the city and its police department that they intend to file a lawsuit seeking at least $1.5 million in damages.

Derrick Thompson and Alivia Welch

Facebook photo

click image to enlarge

In this December 2012 photo, James Pak and his attorney Joel Vincent.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

Daniel Lilley, the attorney who represents the parents of 19-year-old Derrick Thompson, said police failed to intervene after Thompson's landlord, James Pak, threatened him on Dec. 29.

Pak, 75, is now in jail, charged with two counts of murder in the shooting deaths of Thompson and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Alivia Welch, and one count of attempted murder in the shooting of Thompson's mother, Susan Johnson.

"The police dropped the ball," Lilley said.

Now that Lilley has put the city and police on notice as required by law, he said he intends to file the lawsuit soon in York County Superior Court.

Derrick Thompson called 911 at 6:07 p.m. on Dec. 29, reporting that Pak had been yelling at him and threatening him. Two police officers -- Edward Dexter and Jacob Wolterbeek, who are named in the claim -- responded and spent 44 minutes at the building where Pak lived and rented the apartment to Thompson and his mother.

The officers determined that the dispute was over late rent and parking, and left at 6:51 p.m. after deeming it a "civil matter," according to a police affidavit.

Three minutes later, dispatchers got a 911 call from Johnson, who said Pak had just shot her, her son and his girlfriend.

Thompson and Welch died immediately. Johnson, 44, who was shot once in the arm and once in the back, survived by hiding behind her Christmas tree and playing dead, according to the affidavit.

"The officers' failure to intervene in the dispute after being told in graphic language of Mr. Pak's clear threat of violence subjected the victims to foreseeable risk, resulting in the deaths of two of the victims," Lilley said in the written notice of claim.

Thompson's parents, Johnson and Richard Thompson, are seeking a minimum of $750,000 each, according to the claim.

Lilley said police were aware that Pak had threatened Derrick Thompson using a hand gesture, with his forefinger pointed to represent a gun.

"That's a red flag," he said.

Although Derrick Thompson told police that he wasn't afraid of Pak, that did not excuse the officers, Lilley said.

"Asking a teenager, 'Do you feel comfortable?' doesn't hack it. When you see a fight where guns are being suggested, you have to investigate," he said.

Authorities have not released transcripts of 911 calls related to Pak and the shootings.

The Portland Press Herald sued the state in January, seeking the transcripts of the 911 calls made that night and 911 transcripts for all open murder investigations.

Last month, Superior Court Justice Roland Cole upheld the state police's decision to withhold the transcripts. He said public disclosure would interfere with the case against Pak and could "hypothetically influence the input of potential witnesses."

The newspaper has appealed Cole's decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Lilley, who recently had a hip replacement, said by phone Thursday that his recovery may delay the filing of the lawsuit, but his office will file it "fairly soon."

Biddeford City Manager John Bubier said the city has received Lilley's notice of claim and will forward the case to its insurance carrier once the lawsuit is filed.

"We're not going to comment on the efficacy of the case," Bubier said. "It is not a case that our standard (city attorney) would handle. Since they are insurance claims, someone will be assigned by the insurance carrier."

In addition to the two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, Pak was indicted on one count of elevated aggravated assault and one count of burglary. He has pleaded not guilty.

His attorney in the criminal case, Joel Vincent, said Thursday that Pak must have a mental health examination before the case can proceed. No court dates have been set.

Court documents say that on the evening of the shootings, Pak waited for police to leave, got a gun, opened the door to the apartment and said he was going to shoot his tenants.

He shot Johnson first, then Thompson, then Welch, court documents say.

Two hours after Pak's arrest, his blood alcohol content was 0.15 percent, almost twice the legal limit to drive, according to police.

Police have not characterized Pak's demeanor or level of intoxication, or what he said to the officers after Thompson's initial 911 call.

Pak was arrested three hours after the shootings, and it's not clear whether he drank before the encounter.

Johnson filed a separate lawsuit in late January seeking at least $1 million in damages from Pak and his wife, Armit Pak, who co-own the house.

Her lawsuit alleges a history of disputes between Pak and Thompson and Johnson, dating to when Thompson and Johnson first rented the apartment.

Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

sdolan@pressherald.com

 

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