An appeals court has upheld a federal judge’s decision to allow a jury to decide whether a Riverview Psychiatric Center outpatient’s rights were violated when he was shot by an Augusta police officer as he stabbed himself.

The Augusta officer, Laura Drouin, who fired a trio of shots at outpatient Jason Begin, now 40, during a confrontation in January 2015, had asked the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a district court magistrate judge’s ruling and grant her summary judgment.

However, the appeals court declined to do so.

In an opinion issued Friday, Circuit Judge William Kayatta, writing for the three-judge panel, noted, “The conclusion that a jury could find here the absence of the immediate threat necessary to make a shooting constitutional does not by itself mean that a jury could also find Drouin liable. Police officers do not have the luxury of calmly considering the circumstances they face as if they were jurors or judges.”

Begin had become angry when he was told he would be recommitted to the state psychiatric hospital after having been allowed to live in a supervised home in the community, and began slicing his arms with a knife during a meeting with an outpatient team.

“The district court did find that there was evidence the Riverview personnel were in ‘close proximity’ to both Drouin and Begin, but that no one was ‘between’ Drouin and Begin when Begin raised the knife, and that no one faced any immediate threat from Begin. Does this mean only that no one was in the direct line of fire? Or does it mean that no one was in the room between Begin and Drouin as she stood with gun drawn facing him standing stationary in front of his chair?”

At the oral argument session in September in Boston, one of the circuit court judges told Drouin’s attorney Edward Benjamin that clear diagrams are necessary: “You need the record to be unambiguous on that point.”

Kayatta noted there were a number of questions remaining in the case itself, including the precise location of other individuals in the room with Begin.

Benjamin, on Tuesday, said he anticipated clearing up all ambiguities at trial.

He said there was an undisputed fact already submitted in the case, saying that Russell Kimball, a physician’s assistant, was 5 feet from Begin and that Drouin was 20 feet from Begin. Benjamin also said that “clearly no one was in the line of fire” when Drouin shot Begin.

“The jury will have to decide whether the threat was imminent enough,” Benjamin said.

Begin, through attorneys Bradford Pattershall and Matthew Bowe, is seeking $2.5 million in damages in the civil lawsuit. The city of Augusta was also a defendant, but the magistrate judge granted summary judgment in favor of the city.

On Tuesday, Pattershall said via email, “The only thing I have tried to convey to everyone at every step of the way is that our client never made any overt threat to anyone. I think that is appreciated in both the trial court’s and appeals court’s decision.”

Maine’s attorney general, in a March 2016 report, ruled that Drouin was defending her life and others’ lives when she shot Begin.

Begin had been living in a house on Green Street in Augusta when Riverview officials learned he might have been using marijuana and selling it to other patients. Despite his denials, they decided to return him to the state hospital.

“Before informing him of the decision the team discussed concerns that Mr. Begin, who had a well-known history of assaultive and threatening behavior … could become aggressive,” investigators wrote, noting that Begin is 5 feet, 11 inches tall and weighs 265 pounds. The team called for an Augusta police officer to be there when they delivered the news and also help take him back to the hospital.

“When one of the team members informed Mr. Begin of the decision to recommit him to Riverview, Mr. Begin stood, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a knife he had been concealing, and raised it over his head while pointing it at the team member closest to him,” investigators wrote. “Mr. Begin said that he was not going back to the hospital and that ‘I should have done this moons ago.'”

Begin slashed his arm with the knife, described as an “ExtremeOps” folding knife, measuring 7 1/4 inches overall with a 3 1/8-inch blade, before again pointing it at a team member, who was now backing away.

“As the team members retreated from the room, Officer Drouin advanced toward Mr. Begin after having been summoned by the team members at the room’s threshold,” investigators wrote. “She saw Mr. Begin stand, retrieve the knife from his pocket, and slash his own arm as various team members tried to escape the room past her.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge John Nivision, who denied summary judgment to Drouin in a ruling in April 2017, wrote that Drouin only shouted “hey” three times before shooting without warning. Begin, who was hit in the left shoulder, right chest and lower left rib cage, collapsed to the floor. Begin spent five weeks in the hospital being treated for his wounds.

In November 2016, Begin sought to be released from state custody.

In January, Begin won state court permission to move to a supervised apartment or group home in the community.

Begin initially had been placed in state custody Aug. 2, 2004, after being found not criminally responsible by reason of insanity for stealing an airplane in Androscoggin County and crashing it in Canada in what he described an “elaborate suicide attempt” because he faced charges of gross sexual assault involving family members.

Riverview records show that Begin tried to hang himself in November 2011 in a bathroom at Riverview, and that police were brought in to intervene a month later when he “was verbally threatening to harm others and was posturing aggressively.”

Begin remained at Riverview until the fall of 2013, when a court order authorized him to enter an outpatient program that allowed him to live in a group home in the community. The court required Begin to attend regular sex offender and alcohol counseling, and prohibited him from using alcohol or unlawful drugs.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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