SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

September 14, 2013

DA: Shooting death by officers was 'justifiable'

BY JULIE MANGANIS
STAFF WRITER

---- — DANVERS — The District Attorney’s Office has concluded that last month’s fatal shooting of a Danvers man by police was “justifiable,” and said a witness told officers the man had expressed a desire to commit “suicide by cop.”

The report, released yesterday afternoon, said officers reasonably concluded they were in “imminent danger” from Scott Kehoe, 37, a resident of the Avalon Apartments on Kirkbride Drive, where the shooting occurred just after midnight on Aug. 23.

The report reveals that two officers, Peter Shabowich and Justin Ellenton, shot at Kehoe eight times, and struck him six times. The report said Kehoe had tried to stab a state trooper and a police dog, and ignored commands to drop the knife he was brandishing.

The knife was described as a black-handled kitchen steak knife with a 4-inch blade.

According to friends of his family, Kehoe had struggled with depression and alcohol abuse. He was wanted on default warrants for missing court appearances in two cases.

On the evening of Aug. 22, police got a call shortly before 10 p.m. saying that Kehoe had assaulted a 19-year-old neighbor earlier in the day. Sgt. Paul Stone and patrolmen Dana Martin, Kevin Wood and Shabowich were sent to the apartment.

There, police were told that Kehoe had accused the teenager of stealing headphones belonging to Kehoe’s 13-year-old son. When the teen denied doing so, Kehoe allegedly grabbed him and slammed his head repeatedly into a window and windowsill, struck him with the handle end of a knife, then held the knife to the teen’s neck and went through his pockets, demanding $20. The teen suffered a laceration to the head.

Police concluded there was probable cause to arrest Kehoe on charges that included attempted armed robbery and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.

It was with those allegations and Kehoe’s history in mind that officers assembled outside the Kirkbride Drive apartment. Ellenton was called in with his police dog, Falco, to help search for Kehoe, who, police were told, had fled into a wooded area.

During the search, they got a call from a witness who had just spoken with Kehoe on the phone and said he was back in his apartment. The witness also told police that Kehoe had indicated he wanted to commit “suicide by cop,” and said Kehoe asked him for a “pocket knife.”

According to separate reports obtained by The Salem News under a public records request, Kehoe also was quoted by the witness as saying he wanted to go “out with a bang.”

The information was relayed to officers at the scene.

Police asked for a Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC) “STOP” team (a group of officers trained to deal with crisis situations) to be sent to the scene, but the team did not arrive in time. They also requested aid from the state police.

After learning that Kehoe was in his apartment, Ellenton and Wood went to the rear of the first-floor unit and saw him through the blinds.

Just after midnight, state police Sgt. Eric Bernstein and Trooper Dale Jenkins arrived.

Then, an officer saw Kehoe running from the building holding what looked like a knife.

“Kehoe ran directly at Trooper Jenkins,” the report says. “Trooper Jenkins attempted to tackle Kehoe but when he saw something in Kehoe’s hand, he pushed Kehoe against a car.”

Jenkins received a 10-inch superficial cut to his right bicep, the report said.

Ellenton said in his report that Kehoe, yelling, kept running at officers, who had to duck out of the way. He then ran between parked cars and to a grassy area near the parking lot, stopped, turned and faced the officers who were pursuing him on foot.

“At this point it was clear that Kehoe was brandishing a knife,” the report states. Stone said in his report that Kehoe was also pacing back and forth.

He made “aggressive stabbing and jousting motions” at the officers as they yelled at him to drop the knife and get on the ground, the report said.

Ellenton released the police dog, which ran toward Kehoe and made contact with his left leg but did not bite him. Kehoe appeared to try to stab the dog.

According to Ellenton’s report, he called off Falco, who appeared confused by all the yelling at the scene, and put him back in the police car.

Stone, meanwhile, was trying to convince Kehoe to drop the knife when Kehoe began chasing him. Stone ran back toward the officers.

Shabowich had been yelling at Kehoe to drop the knife when Kehoe turned toward him.

“Kehoe charged at Officer Shabowich and got within 6 feet of him,” the report said. “Officer Shabowich aimed his firearm in a low downward direction and fired three shots, striking Kehoe in the leg with the third shot.”

Kehoe stumbled but continued toward Shabowich, the report said. At that point, Ellenton fired five times, striking Kehoe “multiple times,” the report said.

Kehoe was hit in the right and left sides of his chest, his right thigh, his right forearm and the front of his right calf.

Seven bullet casings were recovered at the scene, two from Shabowich’s gun and five from Ellenton’s. The eighth was not found.

After being shot, Kehoe, still holding the knife, continued to kick at the officers and tried to get up, the report said.

He was taken to Beverly Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Police were later told by a witness that Kehoe may have stolen partial prescriptions for the drugs Lyrica and Adderall from the witness two days before the incident.

The report notes that Lyrica, used to manage nerve pain, can cause suicidal thoughts. However, a toxicology test has not been completed to determine whether Kehoe ingested either of the drugs.

“The public is entitled to know that police officers, who are charged with protecting the public and enforcing the law, have acted lawfully in their use of lethal force,” District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said in a statement.

“These officers had to make split-second decisions in a rapidly changing situation in which a man, known to be dangerous and who had expressed his desire to commit suicide by police officer, was aggressively brandishing a knife and attempting to stab them. There is no question that Mr. Kehoe posed an imminent threat of killing or seriously injuring the officers, thus justifying their use of lethal force.”

Danvers police Chief Neil Ouellette issued a statement last night saying he was “pleased” by Blodgett’s findings.

He did not respond to a message seeking an update on the status of the officers involved in the shooting, instead asking in the statement that their privacy be respected.

Kehoe, who had recently gained custody of one of his two children, called his son shortly before he died, police later learned,telling him “You and your sister are the best thing I ever did. I will always love you and I am sorry.”

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.