Two Manchester police officers filed a lawsuit this week against the New Hampshire Department of Safety’s commissioner and a gun shop in Derry.
Officers Ryan Hardy and Matthew O’Connor were shot by 34-year-old Ian MacPherson in May of 2016.
The officers say the department and shop failed to do the proper background checks to stop MacPherson from buying the gun used in the shooting.
Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with their attorney, Mark Morrissette, about this lawsuit.
(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)
Why do your clients believe that MacPherson shouldn't have been able to get this gun?
The really underlying reason is because he was a danger to himself and to others. But under federal law, there are nine disqualifying factors or features that one should be looked at for. And in this case, there are several of them that apply to Mr. MacPherson from the information that we were given under a Right to Know request to the Merrimack, New Hampshire Police Department.
One of those was his involuntary commitment to a state hospital. Another one was a misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence. A third one was that we understand that he was adjudicated, upon our information and belief, as a "mental defective." It's an old term, old phrase under a federal standard. And with that disqualifying factor, he has been deemed to be disabled. And then another factor is his reliance on medication to control his mental health conditions.
So multiple factors involved here.
Correct. There's also a separate cause of action under state tort law that would hold someone accountable for negligently entrusting an item that's produced in commerce. And if it's dangerous for the user to have that and dangerous for others, then the person can be held accountable for that.
And can you explain the background on MacPherson's mental health, his mental history?
Sure. The background comes in great and large part from the Merrimack New, Hampshire Police Department where Mr. MacPherson originally resided with his family. He had altercations and disputes with family members, and it caused the Merrimack Police Department to get to know him. Unfortunately, they've described it as having numerous contacts with them over a period of time.
The Merrimack, New Hampshire Police Department, as I said in the complaint, was actually involved with transporting him to the New Hampshire state hospital, according to their records. They also had numerous contacts from federal agencies, counter-terrorism folks.
He has been someone who has been tormented during his life. I mean it's fair to say at the end of the day, we'll learn that Mr. MacPherson was mentally ill, had challenges, had problems, was not properly caring for himself or being cared for. And he created a risk of harm. And the Merrimack Police Department came to know that, and they shared that information with our state agency.
Okay, so the police knew about him. They knew that there was a history here. They notified the proper authorities in the state. And it's been reported that MacPherson tried to purchase a gun from Chester Arms, the gun shop that's outlined in the lawsuit in March of 2016. He was denied at that time. Is that is that right?
Well, it's close to being accurate. There was a delay placed on the purchase for further research and follow up. And the federal law does allow the gun dealer to sell the firearm if there's not a response from the point of contact. In New Hampshire for handguns, it's the Department of Safety.
And from what we know there was no such follow up, and the gun dealer did check off the appropriate box to say there was no follow up. However, there were great concerns raised with the appearance of Mr. MacPherson at the gun dealer, and we know that by the admissions, if you will, of the employee who was working at the time he first presented to the store. And there are some other factors.
So did the gun store and the department execute proper procedures at the time?
On March 19, 2016, from what we can tell, yes.
So what is the suit alleging that happened after that?
After that the Department of Safety, and I'm not suggesting they did it in a timely fashion, but the Department of Safety reached out to local law enforcement and they learned a wealth of information that should have raised concerns in our mindset. And we laid that out in the complaint. And in fact the Merrimack detective, Detective [Scott] Park, was told that the [Department of Safety's Gun Line division] would not authorize the sale. And in fact, from what we can tell nothing was done in follow up after learning some very disturbing details about his background.
So during this waiting period this information was conveyed to them. They did not reach out in a timely manner, and the gun eventually ended up in MacPherson's hands.
What do you hope comes out of this lawsuit?
It is not an effort to undermine the Second Amendment. There are laws in place that limit the purchase or possession of weapons, or at least to have someone look at this in a deliberate fashion to make sure that people are not unreasonably harmed. The laws were there. The guidelines were there and they should be looked at. I think at the end of the day, in this case Mr. MacPherson was a tormented person without overstating it in any way. And to believe that he was rightly given a weapon just runs counter to common sense and it runs counter to the law.
What do you think the implications of the outcome of this case could be, not only for future New Hampshire law, but for other states as well?
I think the implication is to follow the federal law, but also to deal with those folks who are not qualified to have weapons because of dangers that they have in themselves or because of their makeup. And that danger can be to themselves or to others.
And I think in this case there are many people who were lucky by the outcome in the sense that Officer Hardy in particular is very, very fortunate to have survived and or to have even greater injuries. He had two bullets that passed in the area of his neck.
I think Mr. MacPherson is also very fortunate that he himself was not harmed in the return fire that was aimed at him, because of having the weapon and the use that he made of it.