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Attorney General clears Presque Isle police in 2017 fatal shooting

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — An investigation by the Office of the Maine Attorney General concluded that a Presque Isle police officer acted with a legitimate use of force when he fatally shot a man wielding a knife inside a mobile home in March 2017.

Around 12:30 a.m. on March 17, 2017, three Presque Isle officers responded to a Skyway Street mobile home where two people had reported a man threatening them with a knife.

Within 11 minutes, Presque Isle Police Cpl. Kyle White shot 25-year-old Brentant Lahey of Presque Isle three times after Lahey lunged at White with knife inside a bedroom, according to a report by the Office of the Attorney General, which investigates all police use of lethal force in the state.

“It is our determination beyond a reasonable doubt that when Cpl. White shot Mr. Lahey, he reasonably believed that unlawful deadly force against him was imminent,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese wrote in the report. “All facts and circumstances point to the conclusion that Cpl. White acted in self-defense.”

When the officers arrived at the mobile home that night, they did not know which person had been accused of threatening the others, according to the deputy attorney general’s report.

They were let in the home by 18-year-old Cody Dunton and found a 17-year-old Van Buren woman sitting in a bedroom with Lahey, who had previously threatened the woman and Dunton at the residence with a knife. Dunton and the Van Buren teenager had sent text messages about the threats to family members who in turn called 911.

Presque Isle Police Officer Chris Hayes entered the bedroom with the teen and Lahey and asked about the knife. Lahey responded saying “everything was fine,” while the teen “appeared scared and appeared to be motioning with her eyes,” according to the report.

Moments later, after Dunton told the officers that Lahey had a knife, White entered the bedroom and asked Lahey, who had his hands in pockets, where the knife was. Lahey responded with “a blank stare,” according to the report.

White then told Lahey to remove his hands from his pockets and shouted, “Show me your hands now,” according to the report.

Lahey took his hands from his pockets, holding a folding knife with the blade exposed, and lunged at White, who was standing approximately four feet away, according to the report.

White, armed with a patrol rifle, fired three times at Lahey, who was soon after pronounced dead at the scene.

Neither of the other two officers were in the room when the shooting happened, according the report.

The Van Buren teenager who was in the room told investigators that Lahey had been drinking and taking several drugs that night, including prescription pills believed to be Xanax and a substance smoked from tinfoil that was later determined to be methamphetamine. An autopsy found that Lahey had a blood alcohol level of 0.084 percent and multiple drugs in his system, including methamphetamine at levels that have been linked to “violent and irrational behaviors,” according to the report.

Over the course of the night, Lahey started behaving in “an aggressive manner” toward Dunton and the Van Buren teenager, according to the report.

At one point, the teenager sent a Facebook message to Dunton asking to go to a room to “get away from” Lahey. Lahey later forcibly entered the room and took the woman’s phone, according to the report.

When the woman asked for the phone back, Lahey held the knife to her face, according to the report. Lahey then returned to the bedroom, climbed on top of Dunton and held a knife to his throat while accusing him of stealing his phone and demanding the phone or $60 in cash, according to the report.

Lahey then took Dunton to the living room and the woman overheard Dunton “begging Mr. Lahey not to kill him,” according to the report. She texted her mother to ask her to call police.

Under threat from Lahey, Dunton called his grandmother and said that he needed $60 or Lahey would kill him.

When Dunton told Lahey that his grandmother was calling the police, Lahey told him that “he wanted to be shot and killed by the police,” according to the report. When the police arrived at the home, Lahey told the Van Buren woman that he would kill her “before the cop shoots me,” according to the report.

Lahey had a criminal history that included jail time and convictions dating back to 2007 for aggravated assault, trespass, disorderly conduct, stealing drugs, and domestic violence terrorizing, according the deputy attorney general’s report. In 2014, he allegedly threatened to beat up a woman if she didn’t give him prescription narcotic drugs, the report states.

Lahey grew up with his grandmother in E. Plantation just west of Mars Hill, said Shane Giberson in a March 2017 interview. Lahey lived across the road from a camp owned by Giberson’s family, and the two went to school together in Mars Hill. Giberson said Lahey dropped out of high school before graduating, and that Lahey had long struggled with alcohol and drug use.

In February, the attorney general established a task force to review police use of deadly force, following a sharp uptick in the number of people shot to death by law enforcement officers in the state last year.

By last June, eight people had been shot dead by Maine police from seven different agencies between Arundel and Presque Isle in 2017. That number was twice the combined total of the two previous years and made last year the deadliest for police shootings in the past decade. For the entirety of 2017, there were 13 uses of deadly force in 2017 by police, resulting in nine fatalities and three injuries, according to the attorney general’s office.

In 2016, Maine police killed just two people, the same number as in 2015.

Over the past decade, the deadliest years before 2017 were 2011 and 2014, when six people were fatally shot by law enforcement officers each year.

The 13-person task force will attempt to draw conclusions about why these incidents are occurring and whether they can be prevented.

Bangor Daily News writers Jake Bleiberg and Judy Harrison contributed to this report.

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