Weare shooting report critical of police, but clears shooter from criminal charges
A report by the state attorney general’s office released yesterday concluded the officer-involved shooting eight months ago in Weare could have been prevented, but there is not enough evidence to prove whether the officer who killed a fleeing drug dealer was justified.
The 44-page report is the first public examination of the Aug. 14 shooting, during which Alex Cora deJesus, 35, of Manchester was shot in the head while trying to escape the scene of a sting operation at Lanctot’s Plaza on Route 114. It details the seconds when Nicholas Nadeau, a young patrol officer, fired a shotgun once at deJesus’s fleeing vehicle, sending a shot through a rear window and into his right temple.
The report raises questions about whether Nadeau acted legally out of fear for his or another’s life. And it challenges the conduct of a second shooter, Sgt. Ken Cox, in the hours after the incident, suggesting he may have asked an informant to alter his or her account. But it stops short of charging either officer with a crime, citing conflicting witness statements and a lack of physical evidence.
State prosecutors nevertheless offered a stinging rebuke of the department’s conduct leading up to the incident, saying the five officers involved had no real plan going in, and that the ranking officer, former sergeant Joe Kelley, should have at least called for backup from other agencies.
Kelley’s “decision to pursue a drug investigation and high-risk arrest without proper planning, training or manpower, led to the chain of events that resulted in the death of one man and placed five others at risk of serious bodily injury or death,” the report said.
Kelley, who was fired in November for unrelated department violations, was not accused of criminal offenses.
Police Chief John Velleca, who was hired last fall, said he planned to now return both Nadeau and Cox to full active duty. They were placed on administrative leave in the months after the incident and have recently been serving on reduced active duty, going on patrol only in emergencies.
Velleca defended Nadeau, saying he too thought the fault lay with Kelley. At the time of the shooting, for instance, Nadeau had worked a 14½-hour shift after a 10-hour shift the day before and got four hours of sleep in between, according to the report.
“Nick is a Marine,” Velleca said. “He’s a combat veteran – he’s got a Purple Heart. So he knows when to use deadly force. I think on this night in question, he was failed by his supervision. He was put in a position to fail.”
The report fills in several previous unknowns about the incident. For weeks, the department had been investigating deJesus, a convicted drug dealer who they believed was supplying residents with drugs. Using informants, they lured him and his girlfriend to the shopping center about 10 that night. An autopsy later confirmed that deJesus was under the influence of various narcotics, including cocaine and heroin. Kelley knew this – deJesus had disclosed it to an informant that afternoon – but he authorized the meeting anyway, according to the report.
When the couple arrived in deJesus’s sedan, Cox and the others rushed in, guns drawn. DeJesus pressed on the gas, skidding forward past two unmarked cruisers and nearly striking Cox and Detective Frank Hebert, according to witness statements. Apparently fearing that another officer could be hit, Cox fired his handgun twice at the vehicle, aiming low to avoid shooting the girlfriend in the passenger seat. Neither shot hit either occupant.
Nadeau, standing on a grassy patch near the road, was next in the path of the car. He and witnesses said he jumped out of the way and, at some point, fired his weapon, aiming for the driver’s seat headrest.
Nadeau later told investigators he was unsure whether he had fired one or two shots, or even where he was standing when he pulled the trigger. According to the report, the trajectory of the bullet suggested he did so as the car passed or just after it had passed him on the grass. But they couldn’t definitively say where he had been.
Officers at the scene told investigators that Nadeau had said that night that he feared the car was headed toward him. Nadeau would not say in interviews that he was in serious danger, but if that had been the case, the report said, “he could have been justified when he used deadly force in defense of himself.”
The report says the five officers – including Officer Brandon Montplaisir – and informants gave hazy and varying accounts of the incident. It says Kelley became evasive during the course of the inquiry, repeatedly answering investigators’ questions by saying he couldn’t recall what had occurred, “sometimes even before the question was completed.”
Kelley’s statements were also inconsistent with established facts in the case. For instance, the report says, he indicated at one point he heard gunshots before he saw deJesus peel out and nearly hit Cox, which could not have been the sequence of events based on other witnesses’ accounts.
The report also says a sixth Weare police officer, Frank Jones, who arrived on scene after the shooting, told investigators Cox may have told one of the two informants to lie about how much danger he and others had been in at the time. Jones said the informant recalled Cox saying, “As long as no one changes the story, we will be okay.”
The informant later denied having told Jones that, but said Cox wasn’t in as much danger as the informant had originally indicated.
Jones, who has since left the department, agreed to wear a wire and try to get Cox to admit to witness tampering. Cox refused to discuss the case with Jones, according to the report.
Investigators said they tried to reconcile the inconsistencies through various means, including polygraph tests, which several officers declined.
Despite officers’ “poor recollection,” the report said, “no definitive evidence of any lies or obstruction of the investigation was uncovered on the part of any civilian or police officer involved in this case.”
Velleca said yesterday that he had not discussed the shooting with any of the officers given the state’s investigation. He said he plans to now conduct an internal review to determine whether any department policies had been violated and whether that warranted administrative action.
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)