Details on investigation into Gilford teenager's death remain unknown  

Published: 3/14/2023 5:15:33 PM

Two and a half months have passed since the state Attorney General’s Office began investigating a fatal police shooting of a Gilford teenager by a police officer.

Attorney General investigations into fatal police shootings are made public once they are complete. They can take months before a determination is made if a shooting is justified, which is almost always the case.

All but two fatal police shootings in the last decade have been deemed justified by the Attorney General’s office. Prosecutors did not bring a criminal case against either officer since the shootings were found to be neither justified nor unjustified.

New Hampshire law dictates that shooting another person is justified when an officer “reasonably believes” it is necessary to protect themselves or others from what they perceive as imminent “deadly force.”

The details of the police response to a distress call on New Year’s Day in Gilford have yet to be revealed. The Attorney General’s office has named both officers involved – Officer Nathan Ayotte arrived at the house and deployed a Taser, while Sergeant Douglas Wall shot 17-year-old Mischa Fay in the chest within two minutes of arriving. Both responding officers were wearing body cameras.

A public records request for dispatch logs to the address revealed that both Ayotte and Wall had responded to the house twice before – and on one occasion together – and were both aware that Fay and his family were struggling with his mental health.

A Concord Monitoranalysis of fatal police shootings in the state between 2010 and 2020 found that more than 60% of people shot and killed by New Hampshire police had a mental illness.

Mental health advocates say this represents a breakdown of the state’s mental health system, which has failed to help people before they reach a point of crisis. Help should be available before someone is in a point of crisis they need to call 911 for help.

On the evening of Jan. 1, the family of Mischa Fay called 911 requesting police assistance as Fay was in a rage and had a knife.

While police had responded to the home before, records from the Gilford police department revealed that the department did not have any specific policies or procedures in place to deal with mental health crisis calls or individuals with mental health difficulties. However, the department had been trying to enroll more of its officers in training to improve responses to mental health incidents.

Of the 18 full-time officers at the department, only one, Alyssa Raxter, had received Crisis Intervention training, but she did not respond to any of the six times the police were called to the home.

The “gold standard” CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) training is a 40-hour program designed to reduce the risk of serious injury or death during interactions between police officers and individuals suffering from mental health issues. The program includes scenario-based instruction and role-playing to teach officers how to de-escalate different situations.

The lack of CIT-trained officers is not unique to Gilford, as many police departments across the state struggle with providing lengthy training for dealing with mental health crises.

As of January, National Alliance on Mental Illness NH, a mental health advocacy group, had provided CIT training to 136 police officers who were sponsored by the Police Standards and Training Council, which is less than 5% of the state’s total number of active law enforcement. Most CIT Training offered in the state is run by NAMI NH.

The departments in Nashua and Hollis have the highest number of trained officers with a total of 9 in each department. Concord follows closely with 8 CIT-trained officers.

As the investigation of the Gilford shooting incident continues, the Gilford police department is looking to enroll more officers in CIT training this year.

Sruthi Gopalakrishnan

Sruthi Gopalakrishnan covers environmental and energy stories in Bow, Hopkinton, Dunbarton and Warner for the Concord Monitor. In 2022, she graduated from Northwestern University with a master's degree in journalism, specializing in investigative reporting. She also has a bachelor's degree in Computer Science and Engineering and is always looking for new ways to incorporate data and visual elements into her stories. Her work has appeared in Energy News Network, Prism Reports and Crain's Chicago Business.

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