CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A New Hampshire state trooper will not be charged in the fatal shooting of a man whose death inspired a roadside memorial that carried similarities to the plot of the Oscar-nominated film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
Trooper Christopher O’Toole shot Jesse Champney, of Enfield, four times on Dec. 23 as the 26-year-old was running away. Police had tried to pull over Champney, who was suspected of driving a stolen car, when he crashed in a snow-covered field in Canaan and took off on foot.
In its report, the state attorney general’s office said O’Toole shot Champney because he feared for his life. O’Toole told investigators that Champney repeatedly said he had a gun and would shoot him and refused O’Toole’s demands to stop during the foot chase. The trooper also said Champney turned toward him, just before he fired his weapon.
The attorney general’s office released dash cam video showing police pursuing Champney’s car, as well as audio of O’Toole telling a dispatcher that the suspect had been shot and for them to call an ambulance.
“It was reasonable for him to conclude that he faced imminent threat of deadly force from Champney,” the report said. “Accordingly, O’Toole was legally justified in using deadly force against Champney and no criminal charges will be filed against O’Toole.”
Despite his alleged threats, the report also found that Champney did not have a gun. He did have several knives in his pocket that were found after the shooting.
Champney was killed by a single gunshot wound to the back, according to the report, and had several drugs in his system at the time, including methamphetamines.
Champney’s family acknowledged he had been a drug addict with a lengthy criminal history, but said he was turning his life around. They said he simply was trying to avoid being arrested that night so he could spend Christmas with his family.
“My personal opinion is that he was running and they saw they were going to lose him in that thick woods and shot at him,” Fred Butman, Champney’s stepfather, said earlier this month. “They shot him in the back and then ran over to him and finished him off.”
A relative on Wednesday said the family was not happy with the attorney general’s findings and declined additional comment.
The case carries some of the same hues of police mistrust and abuse of power that color higher-profile shootings of recent years. There also are similarities to the film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
The memorial the family built shortly after Champney’s death seemed to get more attention than the shooting itself.
Featuring a series of 17 crosses, it was built in the field where Champney crashed his car and leads visitors along the path he took into the woods. It ends where Champney was found dead.
The memorial was designed to draw attention to the killing, but it also divided the community. Vandals burned part of it down at one point, but the family rebuilt it.
It also sparked a debate about police misconduct in the state, where there have been 30 police shootings since 2011 but no officer has faced charges.