AG: Derry officers, private citizen justified in fatal shooting




  • In US
  • 2022-11-30 09:13:00Z
  • By New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester

Nov. 30-Three Derry police officers and a private citizen were justified in their use of deadly force during a fatal officer-involved shooting earlier this year, the Attorney General's Office says.

Derry police Lt. Michael Muncey, officer Victoria Kidd and officer Timothy Underhill were the three officers involved in the fatal shooting of Christopher Coppola, 43, on April 9 on Driftwood Road.

At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Senior Assistant Attorney General Peter Hinckley said the private citizen was Thomas Watson.

According to the AG Office's final report on the incident, released Tuesday, Derry police responded around 2:17 p.m. when a 911 caller said a person with a shotgun had approached Watson's home and fired at a resident.

Officials said Watson, 31, had returned to his house after driving to pick up food for his 2-year-old daughter's birthday party. His wife and daughter were inside the house.

As Watson sat in his pickup truck, parked facing the street in his driveway, he saw a man he didn't recognize walking down the street toward his home.

Police later identified the man as Coppola, who lived nearby.

"As Mr. Coppola neared Mr. Watson's house, Mr. Watson saw that Mr. Coppola was holding a shotgun," the report reads. "In response, Mr. Watson called 911 to report in substance that an armed man was walking down his street. Mr. Watson also retrieved his legally-owned semiautomatic pistol, which he lawfully stored in the truck, but remained in the vehicle as he spoke to 911."

Officials said Watson watched from inside his truck as Coppola from about 16 yards away fired his shotgun once.

"In response, Mr. Watson left his vehicle and fired his pistol at Mr. Coppola, who was running towards him and on his property," the report states. "Mr. Coppola fired his shotgun at Mr. Watson again, and Mr. Watson fired additional shots from his pistol at Mr. Coppola."

Watson told officials he thought he wounded Coppola, as the man went over and sat down against a tree on Watson's front lawn, still holding the shotgun. Watson repeatedly yelled at Coppola to drop his gun and show his hands, but the man did not comply, officials said.

Watson called 911 again and said he had been fired upon, that the shooter was in his yard and armed with a shotgun, and pleaded for the police to respond quickly.

While Watson was still on the line with 911, several Derry police officers arrived on Driftwood Road, including Muncey, Kidd and Underhill.

Muncey saw Watson in the driveway and Coppola sitting against the tree on the front lawn, holding a long gun in his lap. He told Watson to leave with his family, and he and other officers set up a perimeter around Coppola.

"For several minutes, the police spoke with Mr. Coppola," the report says, telling him to drop his shotgun.

According to the report, Coppola "expressed concern that he was going to go to jail, and repeatedly told the police to shoot him."

As they talked with him, Coppola raised the shotgun toward the officers and fired once.

Muncey, Kidd and Underhill then each fired one shot at Coppola, who was killed in the exchange. No one else was injured.

An autopsy performed by Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Mitchell Weinberg showed Coppola suffered three gunshot wounds: one to his forearm, likely from Watson's handgun, and two others, to his upper back and chest, from the police officers' high-velocity rifles.

The cause of death was determined to be the gunshot wound to his chest.

A toxicology report also showed high levels of fentanyl in Coppola's system.

The attorney general's report concludes the use of deadly force by Watson and the three Derry officers was legally justified given the circumstances of the encounter, and the fact that each fired their weapon only after Coppola shot at them.

"Like Mr. Watson before, at that time, unlawful deadly force by Mr. Coppola was not just possible or even imminent, it was active and ongoing."

No charges will be filed in the case, Hinckley said.

Muncey has been a police officer for 23 years, Kidd approximately 11 years, and Underhill approximately four years, the AG's Office said in a news release.

pfeely@unionleader.com

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