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The Lynn police officer who fatally shot Rafael Suazo in July opened fire after Suazo's vehicle had passed by, meaning the officer was no longer facing life-threatening danger when he fired the shot that struck the Roxbury man in the head, the Suazo family's attorney said Thursday.

Suazo, 23, was shot once by Detective Stephen Emery on July 13 while both were on Jefferson Street, a hilly road where Emery was working undercover investigating drug trafficking in the neighborhood, a frequent concern of area residents, authorities said.

Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett this week determined that Emery was justified in using deadly force against Suazo, based in part on Emery's statements that Suazo drove directly at him after he announced he was a police officer and had displayed his badge.

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Blodgett found that Emery was first hit by Suazo's vehicle and only then did he use his service weapon, firing one round into the driver's side windshield as he was falling to the ground.

"Detective Emery reasonably believed that he was in danger of serious injury or death and, therefore, bears no criminal responsibility for shooting Mr. Suazo in defense of himself," Blodgett said Wednesday in a statement.

But Suazo family attorney Clyde D. Bergstresser, who said he was briefed on the evidence by Blodgett's office, asserted that the medical evidence tells a different story. He said it indicated Suazo was shot on the left side of the head, which could only have happened if Emery was by the driver's side door when the gun was fired.

"There is a serious question as to whether, in fact, this officer's life was ever in danger,'' Bergstresser said in a telephone interview. Suazo's relatives, including his wife, "don't believe this was a justified use of deadly force. . . . There isn't anything to support that the car veered toward [Emery] to hit him.''

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After Suazo was shot, the vehicle careened out of control, striking one car in the street before bouncing onto the sidewalk where it came to rest.

According to Bergstresser, the family will receive the evidence that Blodgett relied on to make his decision and then likely pursue a wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit.

Suazo was a native of the Dominican Republic, said Bergstresser. He and his wife, Gabriella Paling, had two young children, Bergstresser said.


John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@ globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.