The family of Gregori Jackson, the Whitefield 18-year-old shot and killed by a Waldoboro police officer in 2007, made an emotional plea for the officer’s prosecution during a press conference in Augusta on Thursday, June 11.
The Jackson family was joined by District Attorney Natasha Irving, D-Waldoboro; and state Rep. Jeff Evangelos, I-Friendship, who represents Waldoboro.
“As district attorney, I have the duty to right this wrong, and I will see anyone who tries to stop this pursuit of justice, anyone who wants to preclude me from my sacred duty, I will see them in court,” Irving said.
Irving has said she will ask a grand jury to indict the officer, Zachary Curtis, on a charge of depraved indifference murder.
“This case was closed by the Attorney General’s Office in 2008 as a justified homicide based solely on the narrative of Zachary Curtis,” Irving said. Curtis was a reserve officer with the department at the time. Steven Rowe was attorney general.
Irving cited forensic evidence and the testimony of a former deputy medical examiner with the state, Dr. Marguerite DeWitt, as the basis for her decision to pursue Curtis’ prosecution.
“When a suspect has documented credibility issues, you do not take their word for it; you take the word of science,” she said. “We, as prosecutors, have a directive sent down from the Supreme Court. Our job is to seek justice, not to place any person or class of persons above the law. To do so would be a violation of our covenant with the people we are sworn to. This is a matter of how we serve justice and how justice serves us.”
According to an attorney for the Jackson family, the Attorney General’s Office never asked DeWitt about her findings during its initial review of the shooting. Amy Fairfield is representing the family.
Fairfield is a prominent defense attorney, perhaps best known for her representation of Anthony Sanborn. Sentenced to 70 years in prison for a 1989 murder, Sanborn was released in 2017 when a witness recanted her testimony and allegations arose of misconduct by police and prosecutors. He ultimately agreed to a plea deal that freed him, but left him with a murder conviction.
Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey, also a Democrat, has said Irving lacks jurisdiction to pursue the case as a homicide. Frey agreed to review the case in 2019. He has said that review is ongoing.
“The review of the family’s request to reopen this matter is a careful deliberative process involving experienced homicide prosecutors and we are prioritizing the completion of this review over other matters,” Frey’s office said in a statement.
“We have followed the public statements of District Attorney Natasha Irving and believe that she is acting beyond the scope of her statutory authority by investigating and threatening to bring murder charges against Zachary Curtis,” the statement says. “The investigation and prosecution of murder cases rests solely and exclusively with the Attorney General’s Office as does the criminal investigation of a law enforcement officer who uses deadly force.”
“D.A. Irving has been informed of our assessment that her office lacks jurisdiction in this matter and her office has so far declined to engage on this question with the Attorney General’s Office. This is a case with several complicated factors, including consideration of whether or not the state can disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Irving, at the press conference, defended her authority to prosecute. “Nowhere in statute is the attorney general vested with exclusive jurisdiction over homicide and, in fact, district attorneys prosecute homicides on a regular basis,” she said.
Irving said she will seek whistleblower protection out of an abundance of caution, as she does not want her decision to pursue Curtis’ prosecution to have a negative impact on her staff.
Natalie Jackson, mother of Gregori Jackson, spoke at the press conference about the impact her son’s death has had on his family.
“Attorney General Frey, I want you to know that our wounds have never healed. They are just as raw as the day Gregori was murdered,” Natalie Jackson said.
She urged Frey to allow the prosecution to proceed. “If you really care about our wounds, let DA Irving do what your office won’t, what should have been done 13 years ago,” she said.
Evangelos, the state representative for Waldoboro, opened the press conference. Evangelos has pushed for the state to reopen the case and attended a meeting between Jackson’s parents, Irving, and Frey in June 2019.
“There is overwhelming evidence that this was an unjustified killing of an unarmed teenager by an undertrained police officer,” Evangelos said.
Evangelos noted that the state has never found a police shooting to be unjustified in the 30 years it has reviewed such cases. “How is it possible that no police officer has ever been held accountable for acts of violence against unarmed people in this state?” he said.
Newcastle resident Dennis Anderson attended the press conference and asked about the testimony of potential witnesses in the case: the two other teenagers who were in a vehicle with Jackson before he died.
According to Irving, one later died in a car crash. The other, who is now about 30, is still alive.
Early on Sept. 23, 2007, Curtis conducted a traffic stop on Friendship Road. Gregori Jackson was in the passenger seat and was subject to bail conditions stemming from a drunken driving charge.
Jackson had been drinking, so Curtis attempted to arrest him. Jackson resisted arrest and fought with Curtis, who said he used pepper spray. Jackson broke free and ran into the woods, and Curtis pursued the teenager.
As they struggled, Curtis said, Jackson was able to get on top of him and was attempting to choke him with his forearm. Curtis then shot and killed Jackson after firing three bullets, according to Curtis’ testimony.
Dewitt has said Jackson was shot five times, including bullets to the back and one bullet to the back of the head. Evangelos has described the latter as an “execution-style shot.”
Curtis was 24 at the time. He had been a reserve officer in Waldoboro for a year. He resigned from the department in 2009 after being accused of theft.