Attorney General: Officer shooting in Manchester was justified
Wendy Lawrence, 45, was shot by police following a car chase on September 30, 2013.
Authorities investigate at the scene of last night's shooting in Manchester. (Jeffrey Hastings / For the Monitor)
The state trooper who fatally shot a Canterbury woman on a residential street in Manchester last month was justified in doing so, the state attorney general has concluded.
In a 13-page report released yesterday morning, Attorney General Joe Foster said Trooper Chad Lavoie had reason to believe Wendy Lawrence, 45, was about to hit him with her car when he shot her Sept. 30.
He opened fire at Lawrence after she drove her car into his police cruiser, backed up and accelerated toward it again. Lavoie was standing in her path, Foster’s report states.
“Trooper Lavoie fired his handgun multiple times at Ms. Lawrence in an attempt to stop her from running him down,” the report states.
The report also 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.
Charles Peter, Lawrence’s boyfriend, said he is furious with Foster’s finding.
“How do you think I feel?” asked Peter, who lives in Warner. “If it was your love of your life, how would you feel?”
Foster’s lengthy report outlines what began as a routine traffic stop on Interstate 89, escalated to a high-speed chase into Manchester and ended when Lavoie fired 11 shots at Lawrence’s car. Four of those shots hit Lawrence, killing her.
State police Trooper Kevin Leblanc pulled Lawrence over that day about 6:20 p.m. for driving erratically on I-89 southbound in the Hopkinton area. The report states Leblanc saw the Chevrolet Monte Carlo that Lawrence was driving drift out of its lane, hit the rumble strips near the highway median and go into the breakdown lane.
When Leblanc asked Lawrence for her driver’s license, she told him she had a valid license but it was not with her, the report states. She gave him a nondriver’s ID, and Leblanc ran her record in his cruiser to learn she was a habitual offender and her license was under suspension. Before Leblanc could return to Lawrence’s vehicle, she drove off.
Leblanc followed Lawrence south on I-89, driving as fast as 80 to 90 mph, the report says. When the Monte Carlo and Leblanc’s cruiser approached Exit 3, the trooper called in Lawrence’s plate number and broke off his chase. The report states Lawrence continued to speed south on I-89.
A short time later, Leblanc found Lawrence near Exit 1, approaching the end of the highway in Bow. He noticed she had been in an accident and that the back of her car was up against the median. She narrowly missed a pedestrian when she pulled away, Leblanc told investigators, adding that he also saw Lawrence almost hit three or four other cars as she sped toward the southbound ramp onto Interstate 93. The trooper received permission to pursue her again onto I-93, where Trooper William Tibbits and Trooper Doug Schack joined the chase until she left the highway at Exit 9S.
The attorney general’s report states Lavoie was on duty on I-93 near Manchester, and he drove toward Mammoth Road when he heard over his radio that troopers were looking for Lawrence in that area. When he drove in that direction, Lavoie saw Lawrence’s car coming down Dave Street toward its intersection with Kennard Road, with another cruiser behind it.
Lavoie “tried to think of the safest way to stop the Monte Carlo and decided to try to box the car in,” the report states.
He turned on his lights and parked in Lawrence’s path. As he got out, the report says, Lawrence rammed her car into the side of his cruiser. Lavoie ran around the back of his cruiser toward the Monte Carlo, the report says, taking his handgun out of its holster and yelling for her to stop.
The report states Lavoie could see Lawrence through the windshield “and that she looked ‘determined,’ not afraid.”
Lawrence then backed up and hit the cruiser behind her, the report says. As Lavoie continued to yell for her to stop, she turned her car in his direction and accelerated, possibly hitting the side of his cruiser again as she moved toward him.
Lavoie “was in the direct path of the Monte Carlo as it moved forward,” the report states. “Trooper Lavoie believed that the driver was not going to hold back when she hit his cruiser and would do whatever it took to avoid being taken into custody.”
Lavoie estimated Lawrence’s car was about 4 feet away from him when he fired his gun 11 times, until the vehicle stopped moving.
Schack had also gotten out of his cruiser and drawn his gun, but he did not fire at Lawrence because he did not believe he had a safe shot at her due to Lavoie’s position.
Investigators did not find any neighbors who saw the shooting happen, but Leblanc, Tibbits and Schack all 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.
The report also lists Lawrence’s recent brushes with law enforcement, including convictions for resisting arrest or detention, simple assault, theft by deception, welfare fraud, dealing in or possession of prescription drugs, two instances of violating the terms of probation and possession of a controlled drug.
Lawrence was also a habitual offender with multiple misdemeanor convictions for driving while intoxicated, and when Leblanc first pulled her over on the highway Sept. 30, the report says, she was committing a felony-level offense that would have meant one to five years in prison. At that time, she was also facing possible jail time for three previous convictions with deferred sentences, as well as two charges – obstructing the report of a crime and possession of a controlled drug – that had been placed on file in July without a finding for one year on conditions that included her good behavior.
Based on her record, the report states Lawrence’s actions were likely motivated by her prior record “due to the near certainty that she would be going to prison if the troopers successfully apprehended her.”
‘They executed her’
Peter refused to be interviewed during the attorney general’s investigation, though the report says her cell phone had a record of a very brief call to him during the incident. He couldn’t stand to talk to the investigators, he said.
“They executed her,” he yelled over the phone. “She was no threat to the state police officer.”
Peter and Lawrence had been dating for three and a half years, he said, and they saw each other last on the day she died.
“My heart is broken,” he said, choking over the words.
Peter did call the attorney general’s office to tell investigators that Donald Brown, who lives near the scene of the shooting, told him Lawrence had her hands up and was surrendering to the police when she was shot.
However, when investigators contacted Brown, he denied he ever saw Lawrence’s hands in the air like she was trying to give up.
“After hearing the shots, (Brown) looked outside and saw Ms. Lawrence in the car with both her hands on the steering wheel,” the report states. “Next, he saw her hands come off the steering wheel and fall down toward her lap.”
Before Lawrence’s death in September, Lavoie had been involved in two officer-involved shootings, the first of which occurred in Manchester in May 2011. An attorney general’s report from that incident shows Lavoie assisted other officers in a two-day standoff that ended with the death of 50-year-old James Breton. Another trooper, and only that trooper, opened fire during the standoff.
Five months later, Lavoie was one of several officers who shot and killed an armed suspect during a confrontation in Pelham in October 2011.
In both of those cases, the attorney general’s office found the officers’ use of force to be justified.
Lavoie has been employed by the state police since 2005 and has received training regarding use of force. He has also been a member of the state police SWAT team. Before he joined the state police, Lavoie served in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Samples of Lawrence’s blood have been sent for toxicology testing, and the results of that testing are still pending. Toxicology results are typically available four to six weeks from the time of an autopsy.
Despite the report from the attorney general’s office, Peter said he still believed the police were not justified in shooting his girlfriend. He’s been trying to reach a number of elected officials to complain to them about the report.
“I’m gonna raise hell,” Peter said. “I’m gonna raise hell, because it’s not right.”
(Jeremy Blackman contributed reporting to this article. Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)