Police killed a Patten man in custody last year after shocking him with a Taser multiple times, hitting him in the head with a flashlight and then handcuffing him in a face-down position, according to reports obtained through a public records request.
Jeremy Lau, 46, was arrested by officers from the Maine State Police and Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office on March 1, 2022, after a 911 call for help came from someone reporting that Lau was vandalizing her house and threatening people, according to the attorney general’s office.
An autopsy completed the same day ruled Lau’s death a homicide, according to records obtained Tuesday by the Bangor Daily News.
Maine Chief Medical Examiner Mark Flomenbaum determined Lau succumbed to a “sudden cardiac death following restraint in the prone position and Taser deployment while acutely intoxicated by the combined effects of methamphetamine, fentanyl, and buprenorphine,” according to Flomenbaum’s autopsy report.
Lau’s autopsy took place more than a year ago, and the Maine attorney general’s office finished an investigative report looking into the death in September 2022. The investigation into Lau’s death has been closed, and no criminal charges will be brought against the officers involved, the attorney general’s office said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
“While Mr. Lau’s unfortunate death occurred in custody, his death was not the result of criminal conduct by law enforcement,” the office’s statement said.
The office also noted that the medical examiner found that Lau’s heart was enlarged, which also contributed to his death.
The Maine State Police also investigated and found that no misconduct occurred. The response was consistent with state police training and policy, spokesperson Shannon Moss said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
The Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office is conducting a “thorough internal review of the incident,” the agency said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. The review will focus on training, policies and procedures, and, if there is any discipline, it will be made public, the statement said.
The BDN got the attorney general’s investigative files — including interviews with officers and witnesses, the investigative report and the autopsy report — from Doug Dunbar of Hermon. Dunbar, who runs an organization focused on homelessness, addiction and access to mental health care called Penobscot County Cares, filed a public records request for the final reports regarding Lau’s death in June 2022 and received them Tuesday.
Dunbar requested the records more than a year and a half ago because he has concerns about how people who suffer from mental illness and addiction are treated by the criminal justice system, he said.
“Far too often, when law enforcement and mental illness meet, bad things happen. Far too often someone is injured or someone is killed, and typically it is the person with mental illness,” he said.
Inside the records, Detective Seth Blodgett of the attorney general’s office detailed why officers from multiple police departments responded to Patten in the early morning hours of March 1, 2022, and the force they used to subdue Lau, which ultimately killed him.
The report lists Penobscot County sheriff’s Deputy Martin Legassey along with Maine State Police Sgt. Chadwick Fuller, Trooper David Barnard and Trooper Laney Merchant as the four officers involved in Lau’s killing.
At 3:33 a.m. on March 1, 2022, a woman called 911 to report that Lau was vandalizing her home, according to Blodgett’s report.
The woman told a Penobscot County dispatcher that Lau had broken a window, had access to a knife and was “on something,” the report said. While the woman was on the phone, Lau was reportedly swinging a bat at people, and yelling could be heard by the dispatcher, according to the report.
That’s when Legassey, who was familiar with Lau and his “violent history towards law enforcement,” responded to the scene in Patten. Lau’s history required “at least a three-officer response,” and Legassey asked for additional officers to be sent to the Patten address with him, according to the report. Aroostook County sheriff’s Deputy Shane Campbell responded, as did Trooper Fuller who knew Lau from previous interactions, the report said.
“Since July 2021, Sgt. Fuller reported that he had dealt with Mr. Lau seven times. Sgt. Fuller reported that in the past it has taken four Troopers to get Mr. Lau under control,” the report said.
Fuller knew at the time that Lau used methamphetamine and heroin and that he also had hepatitis C, Blodgett said in his report. In July 2021, Fuller reported that Lau had spit in a trooper’s mouth, according to the report.
The responding officers all met at Ellis’ Market on Main Street in Patten before heading to Lau’s location, the report said.
Once they arrived at the home, around 4:33 a.m., Legassey, Fuller, Barnard and Merchant approached from the front, while Campbell went around the back.
The officers saw Lau in the driveway who then ran onto the home’s deck once he caught sight of the officers, the report said. Once he was on the deck, Lau picked up a plastic shovel and threw it off the deck before picking up a metal spade and throwing it down, while attempting to get into the house, according to the report.
As Lau stood on the deck, the officers told him there was an ambulance waiting to take him to “get help,” but Lau told the officers he didn’t want any, the report said.
At 4:35 a.m., two minutes after the officers arrived at the home, Legassey fired his Taser at Lau who had just smashed the porch light with his elbow. The Taser was “ineffective,” Blodgett said in his report.
Then Legassey fired a second round from his Taser, which caused Lau to fall onto the floor of the deck. Legassey, Fuller, Barnard and Merchant all ran up onto the deck, but Lau continued to “actively resist the officers,” according to the report.
The officers held Lau in a prone position, and audio from the body camera on Campbell picked up Lau “growling and moaning,” according to the report. Fuller told investigators that he hit Lau three to four times in the face with “palm strikes,” which allowed officers to get hold of one of Lau’s hands, the report said.
Then Fuller heard multiple “thuds.” He saw Legassey holding an “old style” Maglite flashlight, which Legassey told investigators he used to hit Lau multiple times in “large muscle mass areas,” including his back, torso and thighs.
Then while Lau was handcuffed, Lau wrapped his legs around Fuller’s foot. Fuller kicked Lau with his other foot, and Legassey struck Lau in the triceps, but Lau didn’t let go. Fuller and Legassey were alone on the deck as the other officers moved their cruiser, according to the report.
Legassey said Lau had “complete control” over Fuller’s foot and was not listening to commands to let go. Legassey feared that if Lau rolled over, Fuller could be injured, Legassey said. So Legassey hit Lau in the side of the face with his flashlight to “change the channel,” he told investigators. The autopsy report said there were five deep lacerations in Lau’s head but no skull fractures.
After Fuller’s foot was freed, officers put a mesh hood designed to prevent people from spitting on the officers over Lau’s head. Then the man was carried to an ambulance face down on a backboard with his hands cuffed, according to the report.
By the time Lau was loaded into the ambulance, paramedics told investigators that he was no longer moving and didn’t appear to be breathing, the report said.
At 4:48 a.m., about 15 minutes after the officers first arrived, paramedics told the officers that Lau was not responding.
The paramedics and troopers took turns doing chest compressions on Lau, trying to revive him, the report said. He was pronounced dead at 5:42 a.m. at the Houlton Regional Hospital.
Lau had a criminal history in Maine defined by drug-related crimes and was wanted at the time for missing a court date that stemmed from a January encounter with the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office, in which he was accused of assaulting a sheriff’s deputy and kicking the windshield of the deputy’s cruiser, causing more than $1,000 in damage.
During that encounter on Jan. 7, 2022, Lau was arrested on an outstanding warrant and also charged with refusing to submit to arrest, criminal mischief and violating conditions of release.
The Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office said he would also be charged with assaulting an officer, but that charge was never filed.
This story was updated with comments from the Maine attorney general’s office, Maine State Police and the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office.
Sawyer Loftus is an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.