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AG's office rules Thornton officer was justified in October shooting

by Brendan Berube
Editor - Record-Enterprise
March 17, 2021
THORNTON — The New Hampshire Attorney General's office declared during a news conference Tuesday that the shooting of a Thornton man by a police officer in October of last year was justified.

The shooting occurred on Oct. 19, when Officer Matthew Yao of the Thornton Police Department responded to the residence of 37-year-old Ethan Freeman in response to a 911 call.

The two men had crossed paths earlier that day, when Freeman, who had a history of mental illness, entered the lobby of a local school and requested medical attention, prompting school staff to call 911. Yao responded to the scene and took Freeman into protective custody for transport to the hospital.

Later that afternoon, the owner of a residence on Four Wheel Drive where Freeman was renting an apartment called 911, reporting that Freeman was once again complaining of chest pain and requesting an ambulance. Footage from Yao's body camera showed that when he arrived in response to the call, a completely unclothed Freeman could be seen through the window, bleeding and brandishing a piece of wooden furniture threateningly while simultaneously committing a lewd act. He responded to Yao's attempts to ask what was wrong by yelling obscenities and repeatedly threatening to kill him.

Fearing for his safety with no backup on site, Yao drew his sidearm and moved away from the front of the apartment while continuing to try to calm Freeman down and defuse the situation. Freeman, however, jumped through a window and began to walk toward Yao, stating "You're dead." He continued to advance despite repeatedly being ordered by Yao (who simultaneously tried to put distance between himself and Freeman by backing up) to stay back. With Freeman closing the distance between the two men faster than Yao felt he could keep moving back, he fired two shots in quick succession, killing Freeman instantly.

After reviewing the body cam footage and finding that it corroborated both Yao's explanation of what had taken place and the eyewitness account from the landlord, the Attorney General's office ruled that the shooting was a justified act of self defense, clearing Yao of any wrongdoing.

The agency stated in its official report on the case that "from what Officer Yao knew, saw, and heard at the time when he shot Mr. Freeman, he reasonably believed that Mr. Freeman was about to use deadly force against him. That supports the officer's own, responsive lawful use of protective deadly force.

"Accordingly, Police Officer Matthew Yao of the Thornton Police Department was legally justified in using deadly force against Ethan Freeman, and no criminal charges will be filed against him as a result of Mr. Freeman's de

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