WALDOBORO — A midcoast district attorney and a state lawmaker are urging Maine’s attorney general to reopen a 2007 investigation into a shooting in which a reserve police officer killed an 18-year-old during a confrontation after a traffic stop.

Gregori Jackson of Whitefield is shown at Acadia National Park during a family outing just five days before he was killed by a Waldoboro police officer. Press Herald file photo

Attorney General Aaron Frey has agreed to hear a presentation in the coming days by advocates for the family of Gregori Jackson, who was shot and killed by Waldoboro reserve officer Zachary J. Curtis, now 36, after a traffic stop in the early hours of Sept. 23, 2007.

The effort is led by Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, an independent lawmaker from Friendship, and has garnered the support of District Attorney Natasha Irving, who said they plan to meet with Frey to argue why the case should be re-examined. They said they will tell Frey that the shooting should have been ruled unjustified and will urge his office to re-investigate the case and pursue criminal charges against Curtis, who was 24 at the time of the shooting.

Frey did not respond to emails and phone calls Friday, but Evangelos and Irving said the meeting has been scheduled.

Natasha Irving, the district attorney for Sagadahoc Knox, Lincoln and Waldo counties, poses for a photo in a courtroom at the Sagadahoc County Courthouse in Bath. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The meeting follows Frey’s collaboration with lawmakers on a bill proposed by Evangelos to create a new panel to review police shooting cases in parallel with the traditional attorney general’s investigation.

Evangelos said he’s watched as advocates around the country have pushed in recent years for increased scrutiny of police shootings following high-profile cases in Maryland, South Carolina, Minnesota and in numerous other communities, where the accounts of police officers have been called into question, and in some cases, proven to be false.

In Jackson’s case, Evangelos argues that Curtis’ version of events does not match the evidence gathered at the shooting scene and that Curtis’ inconsistent recollection about how the shooting took place demands further investigation. The family also believes that Curtis’ actions since the shooting, including two criminal convictions, should invite new scrutiny of whether his version of events was trustworthy.

“This police shooting was not justified by any of the evidence and any common sense,” Evangelos said. “This (officer) and the Waldoboro Police Department has never been held accountable for it. And that poor boy should not have died under those circumstances.”

Zachary Curtis, when he was a Waldoboro police officer. Press Herald file photo

Curtis surrendered his law enforcement certificate in 2009 after being accused of theft, ending his police career, according to records provided by the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. Three years later, when he was a police dispatcher in Knox County, Curtis was convicted of one count of tampering with public records and resigned from his job a short time later. He also served five days in jail in 2018 for a trespassing conviction.

Jackson’s parents, Natalie and Millard Jackson, filed a wrongful death lawsuit after Gregori’s death, but a judge ruled in favor of Curtis, the police chief and the town of Waldoboro in 2010.

Even if Frey decides not to reopen the investigation, his decision to hear out the Jackson family and their advocates is itself unprecedented. Since 1990, the Maine Attorney General’s Office has investigated more than 150 police-involved shootings and never found any to be unjustified.

“The bottom line is they took the word of a man they shouldn’t have,” said Jackson’s mother, Natalie.

THE INCIDENT UNFOLDS

Curtis pulled over a red Pontiac Grand Am shortly after 2 a.m. on Friendship Road in Waldoboro because he said he saw the driver blow through a stop sign and veer toward the centerline several times, according to then-Attorney General G. Steven Rowe’s report on the shooting.

When Curtis approached the vehicle, he found three young men inside: the driver, a 17-year-old; Jackson, who sat in the front passenger seat; and another 17-year-old passenger, who sat in the back seat.

Curtis requested identification from everyone in the car, but Jackson at first gave a fake name and an impossible birthday of 13/13/1999. Curtis said he could smell alcohol coming from Jackson’s face, and after Jackson gave Curtis his real name and date of birth, Curtis learned Jackson was on bail conditions that prohibited him from drinking.

After Curtis asked Jackson to step out of the car to place him under arrest, Jackson tried to flee up a steep stone embankment. The two scuffled at the roadside as Curtis tried to get control of Jackson. Curtis pepper-sprayed Jackson, who then told the officer he gave up.

But Jackson took off again, this time running down Friendship Road and turning into the woods. Curtis followed him and got close enough to Jackson to strike him multiple times in the thigh with an expanding baton. At one point, Curtis said in the report, Jackson hit Curtis in the face with a log and charged at him. Curtis also at some point lost his glasses and told investigators he could only see a few feet in front of him.

Curtis said Jackson charged at him and that Curtis landed on his back with the teenager lying facedown on top of him. Curtis said Jackson tried to get control of the officer’s gun and that Curtis feared he would lose consciousness from being choked by Jackson, who was pressing on Curtis’s throat with his forearm and striking him in the head.

In his report, Rowe wrote that during the struggle, Jackson said words to the effect of “give me your gun, give me your (expletive) gun,” and that Jackson was determined not to go back to jail and “didn’t care what it took,” the attorney general wrote.

When Curtis regained control of the .40-caliber Glock pistol, he shot Jackson once under the left armpit, three times in his lower back and once in the side of the head, the report said. Jackson died at the scene.

In his first interview with an investigator a few hours after the shooting, Curtis said Jackson struck him in the head with a “very tiny log.” Curtis said he then continued to pursue Jackson, but Jackson charged at him, knocking him to the ground and causing him to drop his radio and lose his glasses.

In the second interview, Curtis said the log was 8 inches round and 3 feet long, that the log struck him in the nose, and his glasses were knocked off by the impact before Jackson allegedly charged at him.

Curtis told investigators his vision was tested at 20/400 after the shooting, and during both interviews he told them he struggled to see much of anything without his glasses, especially in the dark woods. The glasses were later discovered under Jackson’s body. Curtis also said he was temporarily blinded by lack of “carbon dioxide” because he was being choked, but he described seeing things, such as his gun sights, during the struggle.

Curtis’ statements about the gunshots also differed. In the first interview, Curtis said he fired all shots at Jackson while Jackson was on top of him.

“He continued to be on top of me attempting to get my gun; I fired a third shot I believe and I believe I hit him in the head and that’s the last I heard of him,” Curtis told an investigator later on Sept. 23.

But in the second interview, Curtis said he fired the final round – which struck Jackson in the head – from a sitting position after he pushed Jackson off of him.

“With what strength I had left, I managed to get him off me, I don’t know how I did it, I just pushed him off or if I managed with my arm to lift him off. I got him far enough away to where I could get him off – essentially off my chest.”

In the second interview, Curtis said he had no way of knowing where the bullet struck Jackson, only that he fired in the direction he felt Jackson would be. Presented with this inconsistency by investigators, Curtis said his earlier statements were probably more accurate.

Nearly 10 weeks later, Rowe issued his report finding Curtis legally justified in his use of deadly force. Jackson’s blood-alcohol at the time of the shooting was found to be 0.21 percent, or twice the legal limit to drive.

In a brief phone interview last week, Curtis declined to talk about what happened in Waldoboro 12 years ago and declined to comment on the possibility that the shooting may be re-examined. He said he has struggled with mental health problems because of the shooting, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Curtis also suffers from bipolar disorder, according to a protection from abuse order his wife requested in January following an altercation. (The order was not granted, and his wife, Jennifer, later asked that the complaint be withdrawn.)

“I don’t like to talk about it,” Curtis said. “I’ve got some mental health issues because of it.”

Asked whether he ever wished that things could have been different, Curtis hung up the phone.

EMOTIONAL TESTIMONY

Evangelos, who lives a few minutes away from where the shooting occurred, said he never forgot about Jackson’s death. When he decided to file his bill this year, he reached out to Natalie Jackson to ask whether she wanted to testify about her experience with her son’s case.

She quickly agreed, and at an April 10 hearing Natalie Jackson delivered emotional testimony in which she highlighted what she believes are glaring contradictions between the story Curtis told investigators and the physical evidence collected at the scene of the shooting.

Natalie and Millard Jackson of Whitefield talk about their 18-year -old son Gregori in December 2017. Press Herald file photo

Natalie Jackson believes the autopsy of her son shows he was beaten far more severely than Curtis admits to, and that Curtis, in return, had few marks on him. The log that Curtis said struck him in the face produced only a slight red mark on his left temple.

She also doubted that there was a struggle over the weapon, as Curtis described, because her son’s fingerprints were not found on the gun, and that Jackson’s hands did not have any scrapes, abrasions or bruises that often indicate someone had been in a fight.

Frey at first testified neither for nor against Evangelos’ original bill. But about a week later at a work session for the legislation, Frey introduced his own version, which expanded the shooting review panel to include more people, equally split between law enforcement and people with outside expertise.

Evangelos said Frey also pulled him aside that day to request a private meeting with the Jacksons and their supporters. In a small room at the State House, Frey listened and talked with the family for 45 minutes, Evangelos said, and informed them that his office had already taken the first step to review the investigation documents.

“(Frey) said that he couldn’t make any promises, but he had called the case up from archives and it was in his office and he was going to review it,” Natalie Jackson said. “He didn’t have to meet with us. He could have said, ‘We’ll just let this go.'”

 

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