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N.H. AG: Fatal Shooting Of Unarmed Man Justified

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The New Hampshire attorney general's office says the fatal shooting last October by a Thornton police officer of an unarmed man in the midst of a mental health crisis was legally justified.

Acting Attorney General Jane Young announced Tuesday that no charges will be filed against Officer Matthew Yao in the shooting death of 37-year-old Ethan Freeman of Thornton.

During a press conference Tuesday, prosecutors laid out a timeline of the events that culminated in Freeman’s homicide. The attorney general’s office also released graphic body cam footage that captured their interaction, including the firing of two shots by Yao.

In the video, Freeman is seen naked, covered in his own blood and advancing toward Yao, who can be heard directing him to “stay back.” 

“The body camera footage shows that at no point in time did Mr. Freeman pause, slow down or otherwise indicate any compliance with Officer Yao’s repeated directives to stay away,” said Peter Hinckley, a prosecutor who led the investigation. Freeman died at the scene.

According to Hinckley, who led the hour-long presentation of the state’s findings Tuesday, Yao first encountered Freeman on the morning of Oct. 19 inside of a local elementary school. Freeman was complaining he was having a heart attack, and was being treated by a school nurse in the front entrance area. It isn’t clear why Freeman entered the school. Yao accompanied Freeman to Speare Memorial Hospital, where he briefly attempted to run from hospital staff before being redirected by Yao.

Prosecutors say Freeman had been experiencing symptoms of a serious mental health episode, including delusions and paranoia. He can be heard on body cam footage telling Yao inside the hospital that he hadn’t slept in several days.

Later on the afternoon of Oct. 19, Yao responded to a 9-1-1 call placed by Freeman’s landlord. The landlord claimed he could hear Freeman breaking glass and destroying furniture, and that Freeman claimed he had injured himself and needed medical attention. 

In the body cam footage, Yao can be heard attempting to calm Freeman, who had barricaded himself inside of his ground-floor apartment. Freeman then climbs through a broken window, and can be heard telling Yao that he is going to “kill him.”

According to the investigation, the landlord, who wasn’t identified, witnessed the shooting and gave testimony that was similar to what appeared in Yao’s body cam footage.

(The Associated Press contribued to this report.)

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.

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