Civil trial scheduled in Canterbury women’s wrongful death case

  • Gavel and scales Creatas

Monitor staff
Friday, September 29, 2017

A civil lawsuit against a New Hampshire State Police trooper who fatally shot a Canterbury woman in Manchester is scheduled for a two-week trial next summer.

Chad Lavoie, a state police sergeant, tried unsuccessfully to get U.S. District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro to dispose of the lawsuit without a trial. Barbadoro recently denied Lavoie’s motion for summary judgment, ruling too many facts remain in dispute and, therefore, must be weighed by a jury.

Michael Rand filed the lawsuit on behalf of his mother, Wendy Lawrence, in December 2014 – nearly 15 months after her death. Lawrence, 44, had led state troopers on a chase down Interstate 93 and through a residential neighborhood in Manchester on Sept. 30, 2013. The chase ended when Lavoie boxed in Lawrence’s Chevrolet Monte Carlo at the intersection of Dave Street and Kennard Road, and proceeded to fire 11 shots in three seconds, according to court records.

Lawrence was shot four times – in the neck, chest and hand. She died about an hour later, according to the lawsuit.

Disagreements between both sides persist over what happened in the moments immediately preceding Lawrence’s death, and whether Lavoie was justified in using deadly force.

Lavoie maintains Lawrence had rammed his cruiser and was preparing to do so again, only this time with him out of the vehicle and in her path of travel. Conversely, Rand argues that Lawrence never struck Lavoie’s cruiser, and that he in fact hit her. Further, he accuses Lavoie of acting carelessly by stepping in front of Lawrence’s car.

The attorney general’s office concluded Lavoie was justified in shooting Lawrence. Investigators said Lawrence was initially pulled over by a state trooper on Interstate 89, and then fled after providing her license which was suspended. Soon after, she crashed the car, and almost struck a pedestrian and several other vehicles during her second attempted escape.

Rand, who is the executor of his mother’s estate, is challenging the attorney general’s findings. He is seeking $2 million in wrongful-death damages, in addition to compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney fees.

Lavoie argues his employment as a trooper gives him immunity under state law, and that he is not liable for Lawrence’s death.

Accident reconstruction and ballistics experts differ over whether Lawrence’s car was moving toward Lavoie when he fired. Both sides cite conclusions drawn from experts that best bolster their case.

Barbadoro wrote in his 31-page ruling that his role at this stage is not to “weigh the evidence and determine the truth.” Rather, he said, the question of whether Lawrence’s car was stationary, as the lawsuit alleges, or if it was headed for Lavoie, is for a jury to decide.

“I agree that summary judgment is inappropriate under either theory.” Barbadoro wrote.

If the case proceeds to trial in June 2018, jurors will consider whether Lavoie’s use of deadly force was in direct conflict with state law, and whether he violated Lawrence’s rights under the Fourth Amendment.

“Finally, although there are some instances in which a party’s version of events is ‘so utterly discredited’ by video evidence that a suit cannot proceed to trial … that is not the case here,” Barbadoro wrote. “While a dash-cam video taken by one of the cruisers following Lawrence exists, it does not capture the initial collision between Lavoie and Lawrence, and both remain out-of-frame through the shooting.”

The parties will try to resolve their disagreements and negotiate a settlement with the help of a mediator next month. If that process proves unsuccessful, the case will continue on the trial track.

A jury trial is scheduled for a two week period beginning June 19 at 9:30 a.m. in Concord.

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, adandrea@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)