AUGUSTA — Maine’s attorney general said Saturday that only he has the authority to prosecute homicides and the use of deadly force by police, arguing that the district attorney cannot prosecute a former Waldoboro officer who shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old in 2007.

The statement from Attorney General Aaron Frey was issued a day after District Attorney Natasha Irving said she would move ahead with prosecuting former Waldoboro police Officer Zachary Curtis if Frey’s office fails to act.

Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey Scott Thistle/Staff Writer

Irving made her announcement a year after a group that included her met with Frey and said the evidence was clear that the 2007 shooting death of Gregori Jackson was both unjustified and that Curtis should be charged with murder.

Her announcement also came four days after state Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, independent of Friendship, sent a letter to the attorney general saying charges were long overdue.

“On June 14, 2019, you promised Mrs. Natalie Jackson, Gregori’s weeping mother, that you would get back to her and us with a face to face meeting after you completed your investigation. We are still waiting for that meeting. And we are waiting for the justice Gregori Jackson deserves. It took the Minneapolis authorities 4 days to charge the police officer for the murder of the unarmed George Floyd. It has taken Maine 13 years and counting to adjudicate justice for the unarmed Gregori Jackson,” Evangelos said in the letter.

On Friday, a spokesman for his office had no comment on the matter

But following publication of the article in which Irving said she would prosecute if the attorney general failed to act, Frey issued a statement. He did not comment specifically on Jackson’s death or whether he would file charges.

“It is well settled in Maine that the Attorney General has exclusive jurisdiction over homicide cases and cases that involve the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers.  This has been the law and practice for many years. As Attorney General, I take my responsibility to oversee the investigation and prosecution of homicides seriously.”

“Unfortunately, I have learned through the press that Natasha Irving, District Attorney for Prosecutorial District 6, believes she has the authority to charge murder in the 2007 death of Gregori Jackson.”

“It is unfortunate that the District Attorney announced her intention to prosecute a case over which she has no jurisdiction, without consulting with our office. It is especially important for leaders to work together towards a solution, instead of creating unnecessary adversity, confusion, and false expectations for a family that has experienced a painful loss. I encourage the District Attorney to engage in discussions with the Office of the Attorney General and to reconsider her announcement.”

“As Maine’s Attorney General, I approach investigations into the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers with the grave seriousness that such matters deserve, and with sensitivity to the families of individuals involved. My office recently facilitated the creation of the Deadly Force Review Panel by the Maine Legislature. The panel is charged with studying officer-involved shootings and recommending methods of improving standards, including changes to statutes, rules, training, and policies and procedures that demonstrate increased public safety and officer safety. The panel is now fully operational and has started its work.”

“I continue to be open to conversations and ideas from policymakers on how to reduce the incidence of the use of deadly force by law enforcement.”

District Attorney Natasha Irving

Irving responded late Saturday afternoon to Frey’s statement, saying she has the authority to try the case as depraved indifference murder, which is also considered criminally negligent manslaughter. Under depraved indifference murder there is no statute of limitations, but since it is also considered criminally negligent manslaughter she contends she can prosecute.

She said a court may have to settle the jurisdictional issue but she intends to move ahead and seek justice in the case.

Both Irving and Evangelos said that the evidence in the case was clear that a murder charge should be brought.

“This is an opportunity to right a wrong,” Irving said Friday about the Sept. 23, 2007, shooting death.

The Maine Attorney General’s Office ruled the shooting justified. The AG’s Office has never found a police shooting unjustified in the more than four decades it has reviewed shootings by police officers in Maine.

Evangelos said in this case, an 18-year-old boy, unarmed, was shot in the back four times, with the fifth shot an execution-style shot to the back of his head while Jackson lay hopelessly paralyzed on the ground.

The state representative said Curtis also admitted in a June 9, 2019, interview with a private investigator that Jackson did not attack him with a log as he had initially said.

The 2007 shooting occurred after a traffic stop on Friendship Road. Curtis determined that Jackson, a passenger in the car, had violated bail conditions on prior operating under the influence and failure to stop for an officer charges, police said. The alleged violation was that Jackson had been drinking.

When Curtis tried to arrest Jackson, the youth resisted and was pepper-sprayed by the officer. Jackson ran down the road and then into the woods, pursued by Curtis.

The officer claimed that at that point Jackson resisted arrest and the teen struck Curtis with a log. The officer further claimed that Jackson got on top of him, was trying to choke him and then put his hand on the officer’s gun.

Curtis said he drew his service weapon and shot Jackson multiple times. The youth died at the scene of the shooting.

The AG’s Office, then under Attorney General Steven Rowe, issued a statement on Nov. 30, 2007, saying its investigation found the shooting justified.

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