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Report: Border Agent Justified in Use of Deadly Force

BANGOR, Maine -- A U.S. Border Patrol agent who fired shots while pursuing two Canadian teens who ran the border crossing at Coburn Gore and led police on a high-speed chase was justified in his use of deadly force, Attorney General Janet Mills concluded in a report issued Wednesday.

In her report, Mills said that on Oct. 14 of last year, U.S. Border Patrol Agent Christopher Talbert shot at the stolen red Dodge Dakota pickup truck driven by Zachary Wittke of Eganville, Ontario.

Although neither Wittke nor his passenger, a 14-year-old girl from Pembroke, Ontario, were injured when the shots were fired, the attorney general's office investigated the incident as it does whenever a law enforcement officer in Maine uses deadly force while performing his or her duties.

The teenagers were on their way to visit a friend in New Brunswick when their GPS took them to the U.S. border crossing at Coburn Gore. Wittke crossed the border without stopping at the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint on Route 27, according to the Sun Journal.

That led to an approximately 50-mile chase along Route 27. Along the way, Wittke rammed a Border Patrol vehicle, injuring an agent. The agent then fired shots at the car. Wittke also stole a truck in Kingfield and passed several roadblocks, the Lewiston newspaper reported. The chase ended with the car hitting a guardrail and the teens jumping over it and landing in the Carrabassett River in Kingfield. Both teens were injured.

Wittke pleaded guilty in November to felony charges of eluding an officer, passing a roadblock and aggravated criminal mischief, and aggravated assault for ramming a U.S. Border Patrol agent's vehicle and injuring him. He also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of unauthorized use of a vehicle.

Wittke was given a 30-day sentence on the assault charge and concurrent sentences on the other charges.

Authorities have not released the girl's name. She has not been charged in the case.

"Whether the use of force is reasonable is based on the totality of the particular circumstances, and must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, allowing for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation," Mills said in her report.

"The analysis requires careful attention to the facts and circumstances of a particular case, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of officers or others, and whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight," she said.

Mills concluded that when the shots were fired at the pickup Wittke was driving, "it was reasonable for Agent Talbert to believe that deadly force was imminently threatened against him and, in fact, being used against him, and it was reasonable for him to believe that it was necessary for him to use deadly force to protect himself from Mr. Wittke's actions."

Copyright 2014 - Bangor Daily News, Maine

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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