With report on Weare shooting complete, questions turn to what next
For eight months, the town of Weare waited anxiously to learn exactly what happened the night of Aug. 14 outside the Dunkin’ Donuts on Route 114. Could the death of a fleeing drug dealer have been prevented? Would any of the five officers involved be criminally charged? Was the officer who fired the fatal bullet justified?
On Wednesday, it got answers. Yes. No. Maybe.
But yesterday, the day after state prosecutors announced they could not determine whether Officer Nicholas Nadeau acted reasonably when he killed Alex Cora deJesus, one question remained: Now what?
To start, the attorney for deJesus’s estate, Lawrence Vogelman, said he planned to file a federal wrongful death complaint against the town and at least some of the participating officers. Though the report cleared the department of any criminal wrongdoing, it was highly critical of its conduct preceding deJesus’s death.
“We’re pleased with the report,” Vogelman said. “It’s obvious that from the beginning of it to the shooting of Alex that the plan was ill-conceived and the shooting was unjustified.”
DeJesus, a 35-year-old Puerto Rican immigrant, had been living in Manchester at the time of the shooting. He was convicted for drug sales in 2010, and prosecutors said a suspended sentence from that was likely the reason he fled when officers rushed his car that night.
Since the incident, the town has spent thousands of dollars on legal representation for Nadeau and the other officers: former sergeant Joe Kelley, Sgt. Ken Cox, Detective Frank Hebert and Officer Brandon Montplaisir. Tom Clow, chairman of the Weare selectmen, said it’s unclear whether that would continue. Towns are often responsible for legal expenses when civil suits are brought against its employees; Clow said litigation is first turned over to the town’s insurer for review.
Back at the police department, Nadeau and Cox, who also shot at deJesus’s car as it sped out of Lanctot’s Plaza, both returned to full active duty. They had been placed on administrative leave in the months after the shooting and were recently serving in a limited capacity, going on calls only in emergencies.
Cox, a combat veteran who has been with the department for 14 years, said he was returning to the field “more educated and understanding and just humbled.” He said he and fellow officers have been working with their new chief, John Velleca, to improve department practices and reduce dangerous situations such as the August drug bust.
But Cox took issue with any suggestion that he tampered with an informant’s account of the shooting, a claim raised in the attorney general’s report that he called “bull----.” Investigators vetted the allegation, brought by former officer Frank Jones, but said they found no corroborating evidence, according to the report.
Cox was also recently named in – and similarly dismissed as untrue – a lawsuit from a Manchester man who contends he maliciously stunned him with a Taser during a 2012 arrest.
“I’ve always tried to conduct myself professionally and be fair,” he said of his experience. “I love this community and will protect it until I’m told not to.”
Nadeau, who is also a combat veteran, could not be reached yesterday for comment.
Velleca, who joined the department in November, has said he now plans to launch an internal review of the shooting to determine whether any department policies were violated and whether that warranted administrative action. He said yesterday that officers would likely receive updated training in areas including crime scene protocol, use of force and personnel management.
Some residents in Weare yesterday said they were unsurprised that the shooting had taken place, given the department’s questionable track record.
“It was going to happen sooner or later,” said George Hodgdon, a 64-year-old resident sitting outside Colburn’s country store.
Hodgdon recently settled a lawsuit against the town for his 2010 arrest on charges of hindering a police investigation, of which he was later acquitted. Kelley, Nadeau and Montplaisir were each named in that complaint. The town settled it in December for $15,000.
Hodgdon said he would have backed the officers in the shooting had there been a more imminent threat – if deJesus had a gun.
“If he had a weapon, and he showed it, then I’d say the police had the right to shoot the guy before they got shot, you know what I mean? Self-defense,” he said. “But if the guy didn’t have a weapon in the car, you’re telling me you couldn’t block the guy in or do something else instead of killing him?”
“I’m not for a guy selling drugs, believe me, I don’t want that stuff in my town either,” he added. “But I think they went a little over force.”
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)