Auburn police block off an area of the city where police engaged Steven Case Jr. during a hostage situation on May 21, 2019. Credit: CBS 13

A Maine state trooper who fatally wounded a man during a 2019 hostage standoff in Auburn was justified in using deadly force.

That’s the conclusion of the Maine attorney general’s office, released Wednesday, that found Trooper Andrew Hardy “acted in defense of the hostage, himself, other officers, and civilians” more than two years ago.

The situation began about 9 a.m. on May 21, 2019, when Auburn police Officer Gregory Pealatere and Androscoggin County sheriff’s Deputy Michael Mejia went to a Main Street apartment building to question a suspect in an alleged gasoline theft from a Poland convenience store, according to the report from attorney general’s office.

While there, the officers learned a man, later identified as 29-year-old Steven Case Jr. of Lewiston, was in the basement where he allegedly had a “large number of firearms” and was “planning a shootout.”

Pealatere and Mejia descended into the basement, where they found a duffle bag believed to be filled with ammunition, and when Mejia opened a door a makeshift door separating a small room from the rest of the basement, Case reportedly called out from inside: “Don’t come in here, I have a gun; don’t come in.”

The two men retreated up the stairs. From the top of the basement stairs they could hear Case shouting for them not to enter and that he had a hostage — a 24-year-old woman, whom the attorney general’s office did not name — as well as the sound of guns being “racked,” investigators wrote in their report.

Attempts to persuade Case to exit the basement unarmed weren’t successful.

The Maine State Police tactical team arrived at the building about 11 a.m. and state police negotiators engaged Case in conversation.

But Case, who was prohibited from possessing firearms, had been arrested on domestic violence charges recently and was wanted for firearms violations, began making demands for “food and drugs” and became “increasingly agitated” during talks with the police negotiator, according to the report.

Meanwhile, police continued to hear the sound of racking guns coming from the basement.

Just before 12:30 p.m., a Kennebec County sheriff’s deputy relayed text messages a “client” had received from the hostage, who said Case had 12 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

She said he wouldn’t let her go or surrender, and suggested in the texts that he was “doing suicide by cop,” according to the report.

Soon after, police left the building and moved to an adjacent garage, giving Case free range to move about the Main Street building but always with the hostage nearby, investigators wrote.

As the afternoon dragged on, Hardy, the state trooper, spotted Case armed with what appeared to be a “‘mini 14’ assault rifle,” which has a high-capacity magazine, and using the hostage as a “human shield.” Upon learning this, fearing Case posed an “imminent threat” to the hostage and unable to safely move officers from the scene, Sgt. Tyler Stevenson told officers to “incapacitate” Case if they could do so without risk to his hostage, according to the report.

At 2:46 p.m., from a concealed perch in an adjacent building, Hardy saw the hostage move away from Case and he fired a single shot at Case, fatally wounding him in the neck, according to the attorney general’s office.

Investigators concluded that Hardy acted “reasonably” in using deadly force, believing the hostage, police officers and other civilians to be at risk. That came only after failed negotiations to end the standoff and Case’s refusal to release the hostage or exit the building, according to the attorney general’s office.