Lynn police Officer Joshua Hilton was justified in using deadly force against an Iraq war veteran who had managed to grab hold of another officer’s gun and fire two shots at police during a desperate struggle, Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett concluded Tuesday.
Hilton acted to protect himself and others from Denis Reynoso, 29, who had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and was behaving irrationally, Blodgett said in a statement and report on an investigation into the Sept. 5 incident.
“When Mr. Reynoso gained control of an officer’s gun and fired two rounds in close proximity to two police officers despite their attempts to get the gun away from him, he put their lives in imminent danger, thus justifying the use of lethal force by a third officer,’’ Blodgett said in a statement.
Reynoso continued to laugh and scream even after he was shot once in the left flank, the report said. He died at Lynn Union Hospital about five hours after the incident began. According to the report, Reynoso’s 5-year-old son was in the living room during the fatal confrontation.
The report also found that Reynoso managed to pull a gun from Officer John Bernard’s holster because the holster was “somewhat worn” and missing a screw, which permitted the gun to be “easily removed with all safety devices engaged.’’
The Globe reported in September that Reynoso enlisted in the Massachusetts Army National Guard in 2004 and served in Iraq from August 2007 to May 2008 as a combat engineer, according to the Defense Department. In November 2010, Reynoso transferred to the Army Reserve. He left the military in November 2012.
Since the shooting, Blodgett wrote, investigators have learned that Reynoso was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in June 2012 and was prescribed medication as part of his treatment. However, the report said, Reynoso “withdrew from treatment after this initial diagnosis.’’
After the shooting, friends and relatives of Reynoso set up a Facebook page called “Justice for Denis Reynoso’’ where they harshly criticized the use of deadly force against Reynoso.
At the time of the shooting, neighbors called Reynoso a doting father who lived with his fiancee, Jessica Spinney, and two children in the Kings Lynne apartment complex, where he was a quiet presence.
But according to the five-page report released by Blodgett, Hilton and two other police officers were sent to Reynoso’s apartment complex around 11:12 a.m. after residents reported that a man with black shorts and no shirt was walking around the neighborhood “screaming and acting irrationally.’’
The man, later identified as Reynoso, had so frightened staff at the complex’s rental office that they had closed and locked their office door, the report said. A maintenance worker told the officers that he had heard the man repeatedly yell, “[expletive] kill people.’’
The officers then went to 46 Newcastle St., one of a series of side-by-side townhouses, where Reynoso had been seen entering, the report said. Hilton went to the rear of the unit, while Bernard and Officer Paul Scali went to the front door.
An agitated Reynoso answered the door and let the two officers inside, where he continued to swear at police, yell, and talk to himself. A neighbor said the officers kept their voices low and were calm even as Reynoso was “acting irrationally.”
At that point, Bernard tried to calm Reynoso. “Officer Bernard, a Marine combat veteran, attempted to talk to Reynoso ‘vet to vet,’ ’’ the report said, but Reynoso only gave him a “dead stare.’”
Bernard told Scali to leave the room and to let Hilton into the unit. Then, the report said, Reynoso leapt onto Bernard, wrapped him in a bearhug, and grabbed Bernard’s weapon from its holster and put it against Bernard’s head.
“Officer Bernard felt a gun touching the side of his head and yelled, ‘gun,’ ” the report said. Bernard grabbed the barrel of the gun and pushed it away from his head.
At that point, Reynoso pulled the trigger, laughing as he did so. Scali, the second officer, then started grappling with Reynoso, but still could not bring the gun under control. Reynoso pulled the trigger a second time, sending a second bullet over the heads of the two officers, the report said.
Scali was so close to the pistol that he was deafened by the sound, the report states. Bernard shouted at Reynoso to drop the weapon, but he responded only with laughter. The officers knew there were 13 rounds left in the pistol and Bernard later told investigators that he “thought he was going to be killed.’’
Hilton warned both Reynoso and Bernard five times that he was going to shoot before he pulled the trigger, the report said. Reynoso collapsed after being struck, but laughed and tried to bite a firefighter who responded to the emergency scene. Reynoso was restrained while being rushed to the hospital, the report said.
After Reynoso was shot, the officers told investigators they heard the sound of someone crying. Bernard “saw a young child on the couch in the room, covered by a blanket,’’ the report states. Police removed the child from the room.