N.H. AG: Police Shooting of Peterborough Man Was Justified

Jul 20, 2016

The state Attorney General's office says a police officer was justified in the fatal shooting of a 19 year old man in Peterborough last month. Details on the incident have been scarce up to this point, but NHPR's Brady Carlson has been reading through the AG's report and he joined NHPR’s Peter Biello with more.

This report traces 19 year-old Lane Lesko's movements in detail before he encountered police on June 21st. What have we learned?

Lane Lesko had been in a therapeutic wilderness treatment program in Maine; he had pleaded guilty to a series of crimes in his home state of Michigan and because he'd been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and other mental health issues, the hope was he would take part in this treatment and avoid a jail sentence. 

What ended up happening, according to investigators, is that Lesko left that program and traveled west to New Hampshire, mostly by stealing cars. On the morning of June 21st he came to a used car lot in Nashua and asked to test drive a used BMW, and then once on the road pointed what appeared to be a gun at the salesperson and forced her to get out of the car.

And that's when police start looking for Lesko?

Right. Authorities put out a "be on the lookout" broadcast after the salesperson called 911, and Lesko was spotted in Greenfield, New Hampshire, about an hour away from Nashua, by the town's police chief, Brian Giammarino. He followed the stolen BMW in his police cruiser into Peterborough, where authorities had set up spike strips in the road that stopped both vehicles.

So there were several other police officers on the scene?

Yes, members of the Peterborough Police Department and a New Hampshire State Trooper were there. All of the officers present say Lane Lesko got out of the car, and that instead of complying with their directions to put his hands up, he started shouting something along the lines of "kill me" or "shoot me." They say he then reached back into the BMW, grabbed what looked like a gun and began firing at Giammarino.

Explain that phrase "what looked like a gun."

This is something that's come up in a number of cases around the country, most famously in Cleveland, when police shot and killed 12 year old Tamir Rice because they thought he had a gun and it turned out to be an Airsoft gun, which shoots nonlethal rubber projectiles, with the orange tip removed. The state says Lane Lesko fired an Umarex BB gun, an air pistol, three times at police.

But did they know that at the time?

Well, this is what Chief Giammarino and several other police say: they saw a handgun, and remember, the "be on the lookout" dispatch said the suspect was armed, and he was wearing a holster on his hip. Two of the officers said the sound the device made after Lesko fired sounded like an air gun or a pellet gun, and said something to that effect, but there was a lot of shouting and a police siren still sounding, so it's unlikely the others heard them. Still, the state points out in its report that even a BB gun can be considered a "deadly weapon" under the legal definition.

You've talked about the testimony of the officers and eyewitnesses. What about dashcam video?

The state trooper's car was equipped with a camera system, but apparently it malfunctioned. Technicians say there's a bug in the camera system's operating software and that caused the system to file even though it would have looked to the trooper as if it was working correctly.

But based on the information available the state concluded the shooting was justified.

Right. The state said Lane Lesko had committed a series of serious crimes and that by the time of the shooting, Chief Giammarino could have reasonably believed he and others were in imminent danger and was justified in shooting and killing Lesko.

Chief Giammarino has been on paid leave since the shooting. Will he return to the Greenfield police force?

We don't know yet. Town officials said they and the chief had agreed he would take time off during the investigation. Certainly that investigation is finished now, but I talked with Greenfield town administrator Aaron Patt, who said the town had just received the report and didn't have a comment yet about next steps regarding Chief Giammarino.