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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lawyers say witness account contradicts Nashua police version of officer-involved shooting

NASHUA – Defense attorneys say there is an eye witness who disputes the official version of an officer-involved shooting this winter.

Craig Riley’s public defender, Anthony Sculimbrene, filed a motion at Hillsborough County Superior Court earlier this month asking the court to allow him to depose two Nashua police officers based, at least partially, on the statements of a witness who told a detective that Riley was unarmed when Officer Steven Morrill shot him twice on March 22. ...

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NASHUA – Defense attorneys say there is an eye witness who disputes the official version of an officer-involved shooting this winter.

Craig Riley’s public defender, Anthony Sculimbrene, filed a motion at Hillsborough County Superior Court earlier this month asking the court to allow him to depose two Nashua police officers based, at least partially, on the statements of a witness who told a detective that Riley was unarmed when Officer Steven Morrill shot him twice on March 22.

Riley, 41, of Nashua, is facing a slew of felony charges, including attempted first-degree assault and resisting arrest. The state attorney general’s office and Nashua police investigators cleared Morrill of any wrongdoing.

In the recent motion, Sculimbrene said Morrill’s statements to investigators as well as the witness’s statements cast doubt on the official description of the shooting, which police say took place as Riley was swinging Morrill’s baton at him, placing him in fear of being seriously injured or killed.

Riley was shot in the shoulder and a second time in the side. That bullet lodged in his body and shows a “clear entrance wound” on his back, according to Sculimbrene’s motion.

Sculimbrene wrote that he wants to talk to Morrill about his description of Riley spinning his body around to swing the baton while looking at him.

“The hallway … is very small with a narrow width and low ceilings,
making the officer’s claim of wild swings of the baton unlikely,” he wrote. “Additionally, Officer Morrill clearly stated to the attorney general that Mr. Riley was looking at him after turning, yet Mr. Riley was shot in the back.”

Those statements are contradicted by a witness’s statements to a Nashua detective, including that he thought “it wasn’t right what the officer did,” according to Sculimbrene’s motion.

“I don’t know how the law is over here, you know, but I mean the guy had no weapon on him, you know. It’s crazy,” the man said, according to the motion.

Morrill arrived at the condo complex off Amherst Street on March 22 after Bedford police asked for help finding a shoplifting suspect connected to a white van registered to Riley’s mother, who lived at the complex. Morrill spotted Riley when he pulled into the parking lot, according to the attorney general report, and began chasing him when Riley ran away.

A stop-and-go foot pursuit ensued, and Morrill struck Riley on the arms with his baton twice and sprayed him with pepper spray once. During one of the struggles, Riley tried to take Morrill’s gun out of its holster, according to the report.

The chase eventually went into one of the buildings, where another struggle happened, and Riley was able to take Morrill’s baton. Riley ran again but then turned, raised the baton over his head and appeared to begin to swing it at Morrill’s head. Morrill fired his gun twice, according to the report.

Morrill, a Nashua officer since 2010, returned to patrol duty in May after several weeks of paid administrative leave and desk duty while the attorney general and Nashua police investigated the shooting. The attorney general released a report May 16 that said Morrill was justified in using deadly force because he had a reasonable belief he was in danger of death or serious injury.

“To me, this is a clear example of the training, how well trained he was and the caliber of officer Steve Morrill is,” Police Chief John Seusing said. “We couldn’t be prouder of how he handled the incident.”

Riley was indicted on a slew of charges in April, including attempted first-degree assault, taking a firearm from a law enforcement officer, criminal threatening, resisting arrest and simple assault, among others, according to court documents.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or jcote@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Cote on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeC).