AUGUSTA – The fatal shooting of a Vassalboro man by police in South Gardiner was justified, Maine’s attorney general said Friday after a legally required investigation of the December incident was completed.

The investigation showed that Gardiner police Officer James Gioia and state Trooper Christopher Rogers believed deadly force was threatened against people at the scene when they shot 28-year-old Jason Wentzell on Dec. 21, Attorney General Steven Rowe said.

The investigation also showed that the officers believed they needed to use deadly force to protect others from being shot, meeting the second requirement to justify deadly force, Rowe said. Wentzell died of a gunshot wound to the chest.

The shooting occurred on state Route 24. A report on the investigation said Wentzell was suicidal and possibly on his way to a home in the village where his estranged wife had been staying when the shooting scene unfolded.

When Gioia arrived at the scene, he saw Wentzell in the roadway near his pickup truck and carrying a rifle that was pointed skyward. Police determined Wentzell’s estranged wife, his infant son and his mother-in-law were inside the truck.

Gioia, armed with a .45-caliber service weapon, ordered Wentzell several times to drop his rifle. Wentzell refused, shouting that “this is between me and my wife.”

A trained police negotiator was brought to the scene but failed to persuade Wentzell to give up his weapon, the investigation showed. However, police succeeded in getting Wentzell’s wife and the others to flee the pickup truck and hide behind a police car.

This angered Wentzell, who again refused to give up his weapon. Wentzell was also heard to have made suicidal comments.

Trooper Christopher Rogers took up a position behind a tree while another trooper, also armed with a rifle, went behind a high snow bank about 80 feet from Wentzell.

According to the investigation, Wentzell screamed an obscenity, raised the rifle to his shoulder and pointed it in the direction of Gioia and the area where his wife, child and mother-in-law had retreated.

Gioia shouted, “No! You don’t want to do that.” At about the same time that Wentzell fired a single shot, Gioia and Rogers simultaneously shot at Wentzell, the report said.

The shot fired by Gioia struck Wentzell in the upper chest. The rounds fired by Rogers struck Wentzell in the right knee and the butt of Wentzell’s .22 caliber semiautomatic rifle, Rowe’s investigation said.


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