Slain woman’s family to sue over officer-involved shooting
The family of the Canterbury woman who died in an officer-involved shooting in Manchester last month has hired a lawyer to sue the state over the shots that killed her.
Wendy Lawrence, 45, died Sept. 30 when a state trooper opened fire on her car during a confrontation in a residential Manchester neighborhood. In a report released Tuesday morning, New Hampshire Attorney General Joe Foster concluded Trooper Chad Lavoie had reason to believe Lawrence was about to run him over with her car when he opened fire, justifying his use of force against her.
Concord attorney Chuck Douglas said he – and Lawrence’s family – disagree with Foster’s report. Lawrence’s mother, sister and son first approached Douglas’s firm last week, he said, and the lawyer has begun investigating the incident on the family’s behalf. Attorney Richard Lehmann is working with him on the case.
The attorney general’s report came out of a criminal investigation, and it cannot be challenged in court. But Douglas could – and said he plans to – file a civil lawsuit related to Lawrence’s death when he has taken his own look into the facts of the case.
“So far, it looks very much like an unjustified use of lethal force,” Douglas said.
Foster’s 13-page report outlines an incident that began as a routine traffic stop about 6:20 p.m. Sept. 30 when another trooper pulled Lawrence over on Interstate 89. Lawrence sped away suddenly before the trooper could realize she was a habitual offender driving with a suspended license, the report states. The trooper later witnessed Lawrence nearly hit a pedestrian and several cars farther south on the highway.
The report says Lawrence likely fled the police with so much apparent determination because her lengthy criminal record meant the “near certainty” of jail time with another arrest.
As she tried to escape the police, Lawrence led several troopers on a high-speed chase on Interstate 93 and into a residential neighborhood in Manchester. There, troopers told investigators, she rammed her car into police cruisers that tried to box her in at the intersection of Dave Street and Kennard Road.
The report states Lavoie parked his cruiser in Lawrence’s path at that intersection and began exiting the vehicle to approach her, yelling for her to stop her car. Lawrence instead drove her car into his police cruiser, backed up and accelerated toward it again. The trooper was standing in her way, Foster’s report states, and Lavoie opened fire.
“Trooper Lavoie fired his handgun multiple times at Ms. Lawrence in an attempt to stop her from running him down,” the report states.
He fired 11 shots, the report states. Four of them hit Lawrence, killing her.
Investigators did not find any neighbors who saw the shooting happen, but the three other state troopers involved in the chase witnessed the encounter. All three troopers estimated Lavoie was less than 10 yards from Lawrence’s car when he began shooting, the report states, and all three troopers believed Lavoie was in danger of being run over by Lawrence’s car when he fired at her.
But Douglas and Lehmann have begun to conduct interviews on the case, and Douglas said they have already found discrepancies in Foster’s report to be grounds for a wrongful death suit against Lavoie and the state. He also said a neighbor who witnessed part of the confrontation has given him a different account than what’s in the attorney general’s report.
“I think we just have a trigger-happy cop,” Douglas said.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeff Strelzin said he knew the family had hired a lawyer, but he was not yet aware of what basis they might have for a civil suit related the report.
Douglas said he planned to examine the car Lawrence was driving, the cruisers involved in the case and the scene itself in coming weeks.
“We’ll let 12 people decide this case,” Douglas said. “But I can tell you it’s the type of thing that wouldn’t even meet the rules for deadly force in Afghanistan by U.S. soldiers.”
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)