AG: Belmont officer cleared in Mazzitelli death

  • Published in Local News

By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, LACONIA DAILY SUN
BELMONT — Cpl. Evan Boulanger returned to work Tuesday afternoon after the state’s attorney general announced that Boulanger had been justified in the use of deadly force against Joseph Mazzitelli in a fatal confrontation on Sept. 30.
The incident at the Irving station on Plummer Hill Road began with Boulanger attempting to arrest Mazzitelli on a harassment warrant and ended with Mazzitelli shooting himself in the head simultaneously with Boulanger firing two shots at Mazzitelli.
Attorney General Gordon MacDonald and Assistant Attorney General John Kennedy laid out the results of their investigation into Mazzitelli’s death at a press conference at Belmont’s Corner Meeting House on Tuesday morning.
“Cpl. Evan Boulanger was legally justified in using deadly force against Joseph Mazzitelli,” MacDonald said. “Therefore, no criminal charges will be filed against Corporal Evan Boulanger in connection with Mr. Mazzitelli’s death.”
Based upon witness testimony, surveillance footage from the Circle K/Irving station, an autopsy, and physical evidence, the state was able to piece together a comprehensive picture of what happened that Saturday afternoon.

The confrontation
Boulanger was working an overtime shift and stopped by the Circle K store for water shortly after 2:45 p.m. Another patron looked vaguely familiar, but it was not until he drove by a Honda Accord parked at a gasoline pump and Boulanger ran a routine license check that he realized it was Mazzitelli, who was wanted on a harassment charge.
The warrant was for a Sept. 3 incident at a residence where there had been a verbal confrontation between Mazzitelli, his ex-girlfriend, and the other occupant of the home, according to Belmont Police Chief Mark Lewandoski. Mazzitelli allegedly fired one or more shots into the air but, because police could not confirm the gunshots, the warrant listed the charge as harassment.
Boulanger called the dispatcher to confirm that the warrant was still active and, while waiting for the answer, he approached Mazzitelli to inform him of the warrant. According to Boulanger’s testimony, he was hoping to obtain additional information to support a more serious charge, and told Mazzitelli the warrant stemmed from the incident in which he fired a handgun.
Boulanger received confirmation that the warrant was still active and proceeded to frisk Mazzitelli, who “seemed aggravated, but Cpl. Boulanger believed him to aggravated at the situation generally and not at Cpl. Boulanger in particular.”
Boulanger is a certified drug recognition expert and when he noticed that Mazzitelli’s movements were “robotic” he suspected Mazzitelli was high on a drug such as methamphetamine.
Boulanger, who also is the department’s K9 handler, called for backup in the arrest because he had K9 Vito occupying the back seat in his cruiser.

Cigarette break
In an attempt to calm Mazzitelli down while waiting for another cruiser to arrive, Boulanger agreed to Mazzitelli’s request for a cigarette. When Mazzitelli reached into his car for a lighter, Boulanger blocked the door from closing because Mazzitelli had run from police in the past. He told investigators that he saw Mazzitelli reach for the glove compartment with his left hand while reaching toward the console with his right hand, doing something Boulanger could not see.
“Cpl. Boulanger said that this ‘made the hair on the back of [his] neck stand up,’” the report stated. “[S]omething about Mr. Mazzitelli’s movements ‘scared the hell’ out of him. Cpl. Boulanger told investigators his ‘sixth sense’ was ‘going crazy.’”
When Mazzitelli emerged from the car with a cigarette lighter, Boulanger made up his mind he “could not let Mr. Mazzitelli back in the car under any circumstance.”
They moved to the rear of the car, but after a few puffs on the cigarette, Mazzitelli moved past Boulanger and opened the rear driver’s side door and locked it. He then opened the front door, saying he was putting his lighter back into the car. Boulanger ordered him to get to the back of the car, but Mazzitelli sat down in the driver’s seat instead.
Boulanger reached in to pull Mazzitelli out but then realized he was defenseless if Mazzitelli had a gun, so he stepped back and prepared to grab his Taser to subdue the man.

Showdown
At that point, Mazzitelli leaped out of the car with a pistol which he pointed at his own head.
Boulanger told investigators that he noticed Mazzitelli was holding the gun with his left hand and wondered if that was his dominant hand. If not, he thought there might be a danger to bystanders if he were to fire with his non-dominant hand.
He pulled his own gun and ordered Mazzitelli to put his down. Instead, Mazzitelli pulled the trigger, but the gun did not fire. Boulanger said he saw Mazzitelli wince, then he quickly reached down to re-chamber the gun and brought it up again.
Boulanger responded by firing two shots at Mazzitelli’s chest. He said he did not even notice Mazzitelli raising the gun to his own head a second time. Boulanger’s second shot and Mazzitelli’s shot were so close together that bystanders did not distinguish the two.
Boulanger thought when Mazzitelli fell to the ground that it was from his own two shots.
A witness said Boulanger appeared stunned.
Boulanger then approached Mazzitelli and, seeing the gun on the ground, he kicked it away, under the car. He then realized that Mazzitelli was dead.
The surveillance video showed that only four seconds had elapsed from the time Mazzitelli emerged from his car to the point he fell to the ground.

Autopsy
The chief medical examiner’s autopsy determined that Mazzitelli had three gunshot wounds, two in the chest and one in the head. The head wound was determined to be the fatal shot. There was very little bleeding around the chest wounds, indicating that death was instantaneous.
Initially, the medical examiner concluded that one of the chest wounds, which was larger and irregular, indicated a close-range contact shot. The forensic laboratory found no evidence on Mazzitelli’s clothing to support that conclusion, and it did not match the video evidence. However, the exterior of one of the gasoline pumps at the Irving station had holes that police determined were where one of Boulanger’s shots had entered and exited before striking Mazzitelli. Upon learning that fact, the medical examiner said the wound was consistent with a bullet passing through an intermediate object before striking Mazzitelli.
Two 9mm shell casings matching bullets from Boulanger’s service weapon were recovered by the car, along with a 40-caliber shell casing matching Mazzitelli’s Smith & Wesson pistol. There also was an empty holster on the passenger seat of the Honda.
Measurements police took indicate that Boulanger was about 9 feet away from Mazzitelli when the shots were fired.
Laboratory testing of Mazzitelli’s blood found a high level of methamphetamine in his system, and the chief medical examiner found he had acute methamphetamine intoxication at the time of his death.

Conclusions
Mazzitelli’s ex-girlfriend told police that he had used methamphetamine in the past, and that he had been violent with her.
They had broken up in March after dating for about four years, and, the night before his death, he had approached her house and told her he was going to kill himself before facing his next court date on felonious sexual assault charges for which he had recently been indicted. She said she did not take the threat seriously because he often talked about taking his own life.
The investigation concluded that Boulanger acted reasonably in pulling his gun when Mazzitelli brandished his own weapon and pointed it at his head.
“Although Cpl. Boulanger pulled out his service weapon and aimed it at Mr. Mazzitelli, he did not discharge his gun at that time. Instead, he repeatedly told Mr. Mazzitelli to drop his weapon. ...
“When Mr. Mazzitelli raised his gun for the second time, Cpl. Boulanger reasonably concluded that he, as well as others in the immediate vicinity, faced an imminent threat of deadly force from Mr. Mazzitelli. ... It was reasonable for officer Boulanger to conclude that Mr. Mazzitelli intended to shoot the officer, and it was reasonable to conclude that even if Mr. Mazzitelli shot himself, there would be an imminent threat of deadly force to innocent bystanders. In fact, while the Medical Examiner concluded that Mr. Mazzitelli shot himself in the head, investigators were unable to find the projectile that killed Mr. Mazzitelli. Based on the evidence, the bullet appears to have gone through Mr. Mazzitelli’s head and traveled some distance such that investigators could not locate the bullet. Therefore ... his decision to use deadly force against Joseph Mazzitelli was objectively reasonable.”

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New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, at the microphone, is joined during a press conference at Belmont's Corner Meeting House by (from left) Assistant Attorney General John Kennedy, Belknap County Attorney Andrew Livernois, and Belmont Police Chief Mark Lewandoski, as they announce that Belmont Cpl. Evan Boulanger was justified in the Sept. 30 shooting of Joseph Mazzitelli. (Tom Caldwell/Laconia Daily Sun)

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This Smith & Wesson pistol is the weapon Joseph Mazzitelli used to shoot himself in the head when confronted by Belmont Cpl. Evan Boulanger on Sept. 30. (Courtesy Photo)

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Surveillance video shows Cpl. Evan Boulanger frisking Joseph Mazzitelli when preparing to take him into custody on a harassment warrant on Sept. 30. (Frame from courtesy video)