PORTLAND — A federal judge has ruled in favor of the town of Waldoboro and a former reserve police officer in a wrongful-death lawsuit that was prompted by a fatal shooting three years ago.

Natalie and Millard Jackson of Whitefield filed the lawsuit last year against police officer Zachary Curtis, Police Chief William Labombarde and the town. They claimed that Curtis did not have enough training and that he used excessive force when he shot and killed their son, 18-year-old Gregori Jackson.

But after filing the lawsuit, the two lawyers representing the Jackson family withdrew from the case and the family did not hire new lawyers. Natalie and Millard Jackson failed to respond to court filings by the defendants, including a motion for summary judgment in August.

Without filings from the plaintiffs, U.S. District Judge George Singal based his ruling on the facts asserted by the defendants. Singal found that Curtis did not violate Jackson’s constitutional rights, and that Waldoboro had no civil liability in the case.

“Based on these facts, there is more than sufficient evidence that Jackson posed a considerable and immediate risk to the safety, and indeed the life, of Officer Curtis,” Singal wrote in a 20-page decision filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Portland.

The ruling echoed an earlier decision from the state Attorney General’s Office, which investigated the shooting and cleared Curtis of any wrongdoing.

Around 2 a.m. on Sept. 23, 2007, Jackson was a passenger in a car being driven by a friend on Route 220 in Waldoboro. Curtis followed the car and pulled it over after observing erratic driving.

At the time, Jackson was free on bail from a drunken-driving charge and was not allowed to drink alcohol. Curtis noticed that Jackson’s breath smelled of alcohol and said his speech was slurred.

The officer tried to arrest Jackson for violating bail conditions, but Jackson ran away and climbed a boulder. Curtis pulled him down and again tried to arrest Jackson, at one point using pepper spray, which he said had no effect, according to the attorney general’s investigation. Jackson ran into the woods, and Curtis chased him.

After the two men were in the woods, Jackson hit Curtis on the head with a log and then tackled him, according to statements Curtis made to investigators.

Curtis lost his glasses during the struggle. Curtis said Jackson choked him with a forearm, hit him repeatedly on the head and fought for his handgun, forcing the officer to defend himself with deadly force.

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.”

The probe by the Attorney General’s Office showed that Jackson died from five bullet wounds at close range: three in his lower left back, one to his chest and one to his head – behind his left ear.

The shooting devastated the Jackson family, shocked the midcoast community and divided the public. It also sparked a debate over many small towns’ reliance on reserve police officers, like Curtis, who have not received full training.

Curtis, who was 24 at the time, had taken the state’s 100-hour basic course for police officers, but not the full 18-week course at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.

Because of that, Curtis was allowed to work only about half-time for Waldoboro. But because the town was short three full-time officers, town officials applied for and received a special extension that allowed Curtis to exceed the limit. The extension was set to expire one week after the shooting.

Curtis resigned from the Waldoboro department last year.

 

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at: [email protected]