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AG rules Dalton shooting justified

by Tara Giles
Sports reporter - Coos County Democrat and Berlin Reporter
April 01, 2021
DALTON — Findings have been released last week in regards to the officer involved shooting that took place in Dalton on Dec. 23, 2020. During the incident, State Police Trooper Matthew Merrill was injured and shot and killed, 45 year old Mark Clermont of Whitefield.

An investigation by the New Hampshire Attorney General's office took place to find the legal conclusions regarding the use deadly force. In the report, it was noted that information was used from evidence from the scene using photographs, physical evidence, video footage, witness statements and reviewing court documents. The Attorney General's review focuses on whether, under state law, the use of force was justified because the officer reasonably believed that such force was necessary to defend himself or herself or a third party from what the officer reasonably believed was the imminent use of deadly force.

Based on the investigation Deputy Attorney General Jane Young found that Trooper Merrill's use of deadly force against Clermont was legally justified.

On the evening of Dec. 23, Trooper Merrill was paroling the area of 135 in Dalton, when he noticed a vehicle moving towards him 'pretty quick.' The driver was clocked going 63 mph in a 40 mph zone. While in pursuit, Merrill opted to not turn on his lights right away to divert the driver from turning into Vermont. After he turned his lights on, the driver refused to stop. This was when Merrill alerted dispatch of the pursuit.

The driver of the vehicle, Clermont did have a prior record consisting of 16 convictions, including three felonies which disqualified Clermont from owning or possessing firearms. He had also been arrested for being a habitual offender and had accumulated several DUI's. He did not have a valid driver's license.

Clermont had in his possession that night a .45 caliber pistol and a 7.62 caliber AK style rifle in the vehicle. While in pursuit, Merrill did lose sight of the vehicle at times. As Merrill drove upon Bridge Hill Road, he looked down to notice the vehicle driven by Clermont pulled into a driveway. He then radioed dispatch with his exact location.

Merrill relayed that Clermont was wearing a puffy coat with a winter hat, and that when he stepped out of the vehicle he did not make eye contact and began to walk away. This conduct concerned Merrill as he stated Clermont moved so quickly. This caused Merrill to get out of his cruiser with his duty weapon drawn. Merrill stated to investigators that at this time he did not know who Clermont was, and had not received any safety bulletins concerning him.

Merrill yelled several times, "Stop! Police!" However, Clermont did not obey those commands. Clermont continued to walk away saying "What do you want? Leave me alone. I'm going to see my friends." Clermont did not look at Merrill and continued to ignore his commands to stop.

Clermont then proceeded to walk towards the steps of the residence, not breaking stride. Merrill did not know if Clermont had weapons and was concerned of the intent of the man he was pursuing. During this time, Merrill holstered his pistol without firing it, and considered using his taser. The decision to not use the taser was made due to the winter clothing on Clermont. While Merrill was behind Clermont, he noticed the man's left shoulder dip, causing him to believe that Clermont was retrieving something from his waistline. Merrill did know that there had been substantial criminal activity taking place in and around that exact area.

Merrill was able to grab Clermont's arms from behind and pulled him towards him. Both men fell to the ground. Clermont was on his hands and knees on the ground facing down. Merrill proceeded to stand over him, and attempt to get his arms behind his back. In that moment, Merrill relayed that he felt what he described as being 'punched to the back' and heard a muffled "bang." This was when he knew he had been shot. Merrill stated that he never saw Clermont with a firearm prior to that, or at the time he had been hit.

After he was shot, the Trooper was on the ground with Clermont now standing over him. He drew his pistol and tried to 'shoot him off' his back, however he didn't hear anything come from his pistol and said his trigger felt 'gummy' and stated he was confused and could not see.

Merrill put his pistol back in his holster and attempted to get up. As he did, he felt what he believed was Clermont's pistol pressed to the back of his head. During this time a woman yelled 'What's happening'.

This allowed Merrill to draw his pistol, however ice and snow had made it slippery. Clermont then drew his pistol and shot Merrill in the abdomen.

The report released by the AG states, "Based on the fact that Mr. Clermont was later found to have a gunshot graze wound to the side of his head and the presence of two of Trooper Merrill's discharged firearm cartridge casings in the area where the two men physically interacted, it is possible that Trooper Merrill fired at least two shots from his pistol during this timeframe. Trooper Merrill surmised that Mr. Clermont's gun failed to fire, which is why Mr. Clermont did not shoot him in the back of the head."

Merrill then walked back to his cruiser, but decided to stand in a different location so as not be found easily by Clermont who had attempted to kill him. During this time, the Trooper reported that his right leg was hurt and his hands were numb and that he was having trouble breathing.

Clermont went up the driveway and entered a shed where two individuals were inside. Those individuals stated that Clermont had on him an assault style rifle that he was 'messing' with. Clermont went back outside and was behind a vehicle shooting off the rifle. He then attempted to go back to the shed, where the individuals inside refused to let him in, and had to use force to kick him out.

Not knowing if help was on the way, Merrill pulled his rifle from his cruiser for increased range and accuracy. He activated the flashlight that was mounted on the rifle to scan the area. This was when he heard another shot, and realized Clermont had shot him again, this time in the foot.

Merrill could not see where Clermont was but did hear him yelling 'no' in a strange way, as if he was talking to himself. Merrill could finally see Clermont and that's when he fired the shot that fatally wounded him.

The report stated, "At this time, Trooper Merrill was experiencing significant pain from his bullet wounds and was finding it hard to breathe, so he walked up the road to the house next door to get help. He described being cautious and quiet because he did not 'know for certain' Mr. Clermont's status and did not want Mr. Clermont to 'finish him off on the front steps,' or come and 'hurt anybody else.' At this time the homeowner called 911 and Merrill was subsequently transported to the hospital."

The AG stated that Several individuals were interviewed during the course of the investigation, including Trooper Matthew Merrill, people on the property during the incident, neighbors in the vicinity of the shooting scene, and people who knew Clermont. The scene was examined and physical evidence was collected and reviewed.

Fortunately, Merrill is recovering from injuries sustained that evening.

After the New Hampshire Attorney General's release of the Dec. 23, 2020 Dalton Shooting report, State Police Col. Nathan Noyes issued the following statement:

"Trooper Matthew Merrill acted honorably and heroically in the face of incredible danger and I am grateful that his health continues to improve every day. Trooper Merrill's actions are a testament to his courage in the face of adversity. Furthermore, I am very appreciative for the thorough and impartial review of the incident by the Office of the Attorney General.

"The Merrill family and the New Hampshire State Police extends a heartfelt thank you for the support received from across the State and beyond. We also send our thanks to the law enforcement and medical professionals that responded, without hesitation, to Dalton on the evening of Dec. 23.

"Lastly, I extend my condolences to anyone affected by this heartbreaking event. Whenever there is loss of life, regardless of the circumstances, it is a tragedy for family and friends."

The New Hampshire State Police remains dedicated to providing the highest degree of law enforcement service throughout the State of New Hampshire while maintaining the traditions of fairness, professionalism and integrity."

Martin Lord Osman
Littleton Chmber
Varney Smith
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