AG Michael Delaney: There were “deficiencies” in the Greenland drug raid

Last modified: Saturday, December 15, 2012
Police officers involved in an April drug raid that injured four and left three dead, including the Greenland police chief, didn’t have appropriate safety equipment, hadn’t planned sufficiently, had inadequate communications equipment and lacked proper supervision, Attorney General Michael Delaney said yesterday.

“There were deficiencies in the management and supervision of the (drug task force) Seacoast team on April 12,” Delaney said at a press conference. “There were deficiencies in the planning and execution of this operation.”

Two separate investigations have occurred since the raid. A five-person commission, comprised mostly of active and retired police chiefs, conducted one; the state police conducted the other.

Delaney called the press conference to release thousands of pages of documents from those investigations and announce his own conclusions about the hours-long standoff that ended after Cullen Mutrie, a drug suspect with a history of violence, killed himself and his 26-year-old girlfriend, Brittany Tibbetts.

Delaney also announced reforms intended to prevent similar mistakes in the future.

Police Chief Michael Maloney, 48, was shot in the head during the confrontation, which happened days before his retirement.

“His ultimate sacrifice reminds all of us about what our law enforcement officers do every day to ensure our safety and our protection,” Delaney said.

The purpose of the investigations was not to reprimand or assign blame – Mutrie, who was 29, is responsible for the deaths and injuries, Delaney said.

The problems that led to the failed raid were more than just tactical problems, Delaney said. The drug task force under his authority also needs clearer lines of authority, better supervision and minimum standards for those in leadership positions.

What happened

Mutrie had been the subject of a year-long narcotics investigation, the report by the Greenland Incident Review Commission said.

After several months, the drug task force team located in the Seacoast area obtained a search warrant for Mutrie’s house and an arrest warrant for both him and Tibbetts. Both had sold narcotics to undercover police officers, the report said.

For reasons that remain unclear, the team decided to execute those arrest warrants on the evening of April 12. The plan was to brief officers at 5:30 p.m. and execute the plan a half-hour later.

The team leader, however, was late to the briefing. Detective Scott Kukesh of Newmarket arrived late because he was on a detail for Vice President Joe Biden, who was in New Hampshire that day.

Another officer missed the briefing entirely.

The officers had what is called a “no-knock” warrant, giving them the authority to enter without announcing themselves. However, officers decided instead to try to trick Mutrie into leaving the house.

If he didn’t answer the door but was in the house, officers were going to perform what they call a “surround and callout” operation.

That night, two uniformed officers knocked, but Mutrie didn’t answer. One of those officers heard what he thought was a noise but wasn’t sure and didn’t communicate that information to the drug task force officers who would later force their way into the house.

A surveillance camera was on the porch but officers found no evidence of any recordings.

Kukesh then ordered the drug task force officers to execute the warrant. Those officers, who had been standing by in a nearby van, pulled into the driveway, approached the house and told the uniform officers to go around the back of the house.

Maloney drove his cruiser to the residence and parked on his street.

The task force officers then lined up and tried to force their way into the house.

They first used a ram, but the wooden door, combined with a steel deadbolt, was too strong to break at first.

The officer then smashed a window next to the door so officers could get a better view in the house. The window broke easily, but it was too dark in the house for the officers to see anything.

So the officer used the ram again and, after the fifth or sixth try, the door opened.

The officers had no idea they were about to be shot at until they saw the muzzle flash of Mutrie’s gun, the report said.

He shot them from “point blank” range, the report said.

Officers were hit in the throat, chest, arms and abdomen, the report said. Some returned fire while retreating off the back porch.

At that point, Detective Christopher Thurlow of Newton – who had recently returned from a deployment in Afghanistan and was in the middle of the officers at the door – ducked out of the way without being shot. He went to the smashed-in window and shot in a way that Delaney said could have driven Mutrie back.

Officers eventually made their way to their van in the driveway and used their cell phones to call for help until assistant patrol units arrived and used their radios.

Multiple officers were seriously wounded and needed immediate medical attention. However, they did not have appropriate medical kits to treat themselves or one another, the report said.

“For a period of time they remained behind the van in the circular driveway near the street, pinned down by gunfire and concerned that moving or exposing their positions would draw further gunfire from Mutrie,” the report said.

Maloney provided cover and helped assist injured officers.

At some point after the initial shooting, Mutrie and Tibbetts had gone to the basement. The final communications Mutrie had were with a friend, who unsuccessfully tried to persuade him to leave peacefully. Mutrie told the friend, Shane Bateman, that he had shot two officers.

Tibbetts’s last communication was a text message to her mother. In it, she says she’s done nothing wrong and asks her mother to take care of her dog and cat.

“bye mom I love you soooo much!!!!!!!” the text reads.

It was from the basement, through a dirty window, that Mutrie shot a bullet that traveled about 40 feet and hit Maloney, who had taken shelter behind his cruiser, in the head. He died instantly.

Minutes later, the Seacoast Emergency Response Team arrived with an armored vehicle and removed the chief’s body.

Hours later, a bomb-squad robot entered the building, made its way down to the basement and found the bodies of Mutrie and Tibbetts.

What they found

There is no evidence that Tibbetts used one of the two firearms later recovered from the house, though she did buy one of them. Mutrie’s father, Charles, bought the other in 1989.

Mutrie had shot Tibbetts in the head before he shot himself in the head. She was holding a leash, Delaney said.

While it’s possible a bullet grazed Mutrie’s right forearm, he hadn’t otherwise been harmed by police, the report said.

Officers found cocaine, anabolic steroids, marijuana and mushrooms in the house.

Evidence of narcotics, opiates, marijuana and anabolic steroid were in Mutrie’s system when he was autopsied.

Tibbetts had narcotics, opiates and marijuana in her system when she was autopsied.

Officers found $14,000 cash on Tibbetts, mostly in her bra.

Multiple problems

A variety of things went wrong in the planning and then execution of the failed raid, Delaney said yesterday.

When officers executed the raid, they hadn’t reviewed the interior layout of Mutrie’s house. Because of Mutrie’s violent history and the possibility he had guns in the house, officers should have called in a tactical team once they decided it was necessary to force their way in. They also didn’t have the appropriate body armor, communications equipment or planning meetings before the raid.

And they should not have executed the warrants when they did. Minimal patrol staff was available, their commanders were largely unavailable and the evening lighting caused silhouetting problems.

“There were no specific reasons identified for conducting this operation on the date and time planned, except that the search warrant would expire in 4 days and the majority of the team was available,” the report said.

Delaney did not answer questions about why officers executed the warrant when they did.

Management and supervision

The report also found that “clear and unambiguous lines of authority and responsibility did not exist” within the drug task force at the time of the incident.

One of the commanders involved with the drug task force had retired prior to the raid. He had not been replaced, and his responsibilities were then divided among others.

The commander in charge of the Seacoast-area drug task force on April 12 wasn’t aware of the team’s plans.

The commission also found that there were disparities in the way different drug task forces in New Hampshire are supervised.

There were no written requirement or minimum standards for the assignment of team leaders. Also, the policies and procedures provided to drug task force teams did not have clear chains of command or the requisite areas of responsibility for each position.

“New members are ‘shown the ropes’ by senior members and are instructed on the proper chain of command for their respective teams,” which also varied depending on the team leader’s instructions and preferences,” the report found.

Taking these and other recommendations into consideration, Delaney said yesterday he had taken steps to preventing such an occurrence in the future.

His steps include:

∎ Hiring a new drug task force commander

∎ Issuing a policy on how warrants should be executed

∎ Issuing a more objective and structured way of assessing risks before raids are done

∎ Requiring command-level approval for all warrants and execution plans

∎ Suspending “no-knock” forced entries

∎ Ordering stronger bullet-proof vests

∎ Requiring drug task force officers to use portable radios whenever they are involved in any high-risk situation.

Delaney stressed he was not blaming the officers involved in the incident for what went wrong. Their courage, he said, was to be commended.

“Chief Maloney died saving the lives of his fellow officers, protecting the quality of life in that neighborhood and attempting to remove a threat to the safety and wellbeing of the citizens of his community,” Delaney said. “That fact was clearly on the minds of the review commission when they submitted their report to me.”

For more details about the April 12 shootings, see the Greenland Incident Review and the Greenland Investigation Powerpoint.

(Molly A.K. Connors can be reached at 369-3319 or mconnors@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @MAKConnors .)