by Jen Lynds
Neil Begin was 54 years old when he died in a Bangor hospital in April, 2010. The Cyr Plantation man didn’t suffer a heart attack or die in an accident. He was shot in his home by law enforcement officers after threatening three people, brandishing a rifle at police and refusing repeated requests to surrender.
The Attorney General’s Office ruled that the shooting was justified.
In Aug. 2011, Begin’s live-in companion of 30 years, Sandra Parent, filed a lawsuit against state and federal agencies and the law enforcement officers. Last month, a U.S. District Court judge dismissed the suit.
Parent contacted me a short time later, wanting to correct what she called “misinformation” about the case in the media. She disagrees with police testimony and the findings of the AG’s office.
Much of the attorney general’s investigation was based on an audio recording of the incident, which was captured on a microphone worn by State Police Trooper Robert Flynn.
According to the report, Begin ordered Parent to leave and take their 24-year-old son and the son’s girlfriend with her early on the morning of April 23, 2010. Begin threatened them repeatedly with a hunting rifle and allegedly grabbed his son by the throat, threw him against a wall and threatened to kill him. The son told police that he had seen Begin shoot the gun previously.
Flynn arrived and found probable cause to arrest Begin for felony criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon. U.S. Border Patrol agents Robert Kipler and Rick Romann arrived to assist him.
While on the porch, Flynn repeatedly told Begin to come out without the gun. He observed Begin through a window running to the other end of the home with a gun in his hand. Police entered the dwelling and saw Begin at the end of a hallway and heard him working the bolt action of a gun, according to the AG’s report.
The officers repeatedly ordered Begin to drop his rifle and surrender but he refused. They said that they saw Begin moving his left hand to the rifle and leveling it at waist level toward them. They believed he was about to fire, so Flynn and Kipler fired at him.
Begin fled behind a wall and then reappeared with the rifle still in his hands. Flynn and Kipler fired again and Begin fell to the floor.
On the recording, Flynn told Begin that he heard him “rack” the bolt action of the rifle. Seventy-two seconds later, Flynn told Begin not to move his hand or he would shoot. They continued to order him to drop the rifle throughout the remainder of the audio.
He died the next day. An autopsy revealed that Begin was struck five times by gunfire, with the fatal wound inflicted to his abdomen
At the time of his hospitalization, Begin’s blood-alcohol level was 0.248 percent.
Police found a bolt-action .30-06 rifle, a semiautomatic .22-caliber rifle and several marijuana plants in his home.
During our conversation, Parent denied that Begin threatened her and she disagreed with the AG’s findings and the officers’ version of events. She did not believe evidence from the audio recording. She said that officers had no reason to shoot Begin, adding that police choose deadly force over deploying a taser, tear gas or overpowering the suspect too often.
But a recent study containing preliminary data that sheds light on restraint in the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers disputes that theory. The results were distributed in an FBI law enforcement bulletin.
The authors were Anthony J. Pinizzotto, Edward F. Davis, Shannon B. Bohrer, and Benjamin J. Infanti. In conducting the study, they wanted to reflect their discussions with thousands of police officers throughout the U.S. over the past 30 years while teaching, conducting research, and engaging in consultations on various cases regarding the use of force in law enforcement.
According to the authors, their experiences revealed that a large number of officers had been in multiple situations in which they could have used deadly force, but resolved the incident without it and while avoiding serious injury.
In 2010, they helped design a program to educate the law enforcement community on the principles of what they termed “the deadly mix” It refers to the dynamic interaction of the officer, the offender, and the circumstances that brought them together. They developed a training that was offered at ten sites across the nation, and approximately 50 students took part at each site.
The trainees completed a confidential survey regarding their own use of force, as well as some related issues. In total, 295 law enforcement officers participated. They had an average of 17 years of law enforcement experience.
The results indicated that 83 percent of respondents said they had been involved in at least one critical incident during their careers. Twenty percent indicated that they had been involved in at least one critical incident where they fired their weapon. On the contrary, 70 percent indicated that they had been involved in at least one situation where they legally could have discharged their firearm in the performance of their duties but chose not to.
The authors noted that their study had limitations. They wrote that while research on deadly force has been conducted since the 1970s, a study on restraint in deadly force is a relatively new concept. Another noted limitation was the self-reported information from the sample of police officers.
“Nevertheless, the questionnaire responses are assumed to be reliable and valid,” the authors noted.
The study also pointed out that the media customarily reports on incidents of police using deadly force, but not when police use restraint to avoid it.
“Perhaps, this media focus on the use of deadly force helps create the misconception that police officers use deadly force more often than they actually do,” they wrote. “As the results of this preliminary study indicated, this is not the case.”
Since 1990, the Maine AG’s office has reviewed all police shootings. They have issued more than 85 rulings since that time, according to figures from that office, and they have never ruled a shooting unjustified.
It is easy to understand Sandra Parent’s pain over the loss of Begin. He was someone’s child. He was someone’s father. He had friends and family who loved him. People miss him now that he’s gone.
But the same is true for the officers. They have children, friends, loved ones. They had to make and live with an agonizing decision. Their responsibility to protect others also comes with the possibility of losing their life in the process.
I am sure that their choices are rarely easy.
Sometimes, there really are no winners.