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Injured Cops Take Gun Store Lawsuit to NH Supreme Court

Two Manchester police officers injured in a 2016 shooting are headed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court after a Superior Court Judge ruled against them in their lawsuit against a gun store and the state. 

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal from Manchester officers Ryan Hardy and Matthew O’Connor. They were shot by Ian Macpherson in May 2016. The officers are suing Chester Arms, where Macpherson bought the .40 caliber Smith and Wesson used in the shooting, and the New Hampshire Department of Safety, which provided the store the background check for the purchase.

Rockingham Superior Court Judge David Ruoff ruled in February that O’Conner and Hardy could not have prevailed if the case had gone to trial, because both the store and the Department of Safety followed current law. He dismissed the case on summary judgment.

The shooting happened when the officers tried to question Macpherson about a gas station armed robbery. Hardy was shot in the face and torso; O’Connor was treated for a gunshot wound to the leg, according to the Associated Press. Both officers have since returned to active duty.

The officers brought the lawsuit against the store and the New Hampshire Department of Safety, claiming the mentally ill MacPherson, who has a history of domestic violence, should never have been sold the gun in the first place.

MacPherson ended up pleading not guilty by reason of insanity in 2018 and was ordered to serve five years at the New Hampshire State Psychiatric Hospital.

MacPherson was initially unable to purchase the gun when he went to Chester Arms in March 2016. The store employee contacted the state’s Gun Line, run by the Department of Safety, for a background check on MacPherson. The Gun Line told the store that MacPherson’s status was “delayed” for further investigation, according to Ruoff’s order.

The Gun Line investigation found MacPherson has a history of domestic violence charges out of Merrimack, as well as court-ordered mental health evaluations. A relative told Merrimack police that MacPherson suffered from serious mental illness, and this was conveyed to the Gun Line.

While this information was given to the Department of Safety and the Gun Line, the state never told Chester Arms not to sell MacPherson the gun, according to court records.

The Gun Line investigation found MacPherson’s relationships to the victims in the domestic violence cases did meet the legal definition of a violation that would prevent him from owning a firearm. The Gun Line employees were also unable to verify his mental health condition, according to the order.

The store followed the law by waiting three business days to hear back from the Gun Line, according to Ruoff’s order. After not being contacted by the state, the store allowed MacPherson to buy the gun, according to Ruoff’s order. MacPherson’s Gun Line status continued to stay “delayed” for the weeks he owned the gun and did not change until after he shot the officers.

“The Gun Line continued the delay status on Mr. MacPherson’s transaction until the day he was indicted for the shooting, at which point the Gun Line changed the status to denied,” Ruoff wrote.

Drugs From Mexico, Deaths in Manchester: NH’s Real Border Crisis

New Hampshire law enforcement is dealing with the one-two punch of fentanyl and methamphetamine, as opioid deaths continue to surge and methamphetamine fuels deadly violence. 

And the source of those drugs is 2,400 miles away at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Last month, Manchester and Nashua reported a combined 95 opioid-related overdoses, a 13 percent increase from December. Nine deaths are believed to be linked to these overdoses.

The figures from last year show a sharp rise in opioid overdoses and deaths, after an initial dip due to the 2020 COVID-19 related lockdowns.

November overdose totals in Manchester and Nashua were up 110 percent from the same time in 2020, according to American Medical Response regional director Chris Stawasz.

“I know there are a lot of competing priorities with COVID-19 and the variants that are out there, but this is, unfortunately, if not more deadly, as deadly as the COVID-19 crisis is,” Stawasz told WMUR.

Manchester had more than 500 suspected overdoses in 2021, 30 percent more than the previous, and Nashua had 250 suspected overdoses in 2021, which was 29 percent more than 2020.

Opioid fatalities are typically linked to fentanyl, the powerful synthetic drug being manufactured by Chinese syndicates and distributed by Mexican drug cartels. Those cartels continue to find ways to smuggle the drugs over the border, flooding American streets.

According to The Washington Post, The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s Laredo field office alone seized 588 pounds of fentanyl during the 2021 fiscal year, an eleven-fold increase over the 50 pounds it snared in 2020.

United States Attorney for New Hampshire John Farley said that while fentanyl is still the state’s main drug problem, methamphetamine is making gains among Granite Staters as well. It is now the second most common drug on the streets. Again, methamphetamine is a product from the cartels, he said.

“What we’ve seen is a real growth in the Mexican cartels manufacturing and distributing methamphetamine,” Farley said. “They are able to produce a cheap and very pure form of methamphetamine, what people call crystal meth, and they are very aggressive in distributing that highly addictive drug.”

One main method of distributing those drugs is dark web marketplaces. According to The New York Times, dark web sites are accounting for more and more of the fentanyl traffic in the country.

Farley said local and federal law enforcement are seeing come up from the border, and then getting shipped to the east coast. Many times, dealers are using the dark web to buy and sell large quantities of the drugs. 

“Almost anyone who wants to find a connection can find a connection,” Farley said.

New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella has said methamphetamine keeps popping up in investigations involving people shot by police officers. The last five complete investigations into fatal police shootings have found people with methamphetamine in their system who turned violent in confrontations with police, resulting in their deaths.

“Methamphetamine and fentanyl distribution continue to plague New Hampshire. As the Attorney General, I will continue to partner with federal and local law enforcement agencies to implement the most effective strategies to disrupt the flow of illegal drugs into New Hampshire,” Formella said in a statement. “It is only by this collaborative effort that law enforcement can marshal assets to protect not only our citizens but the  officers who work tirelessly to protect our state.”

Last year, Claremont’s Jeffry Ely, 40, was shot and killed during an armed standoff with New Hampshire State Police troopers. Ely had been suffering greater mental health problems as he increased his drug use, including methamphetamine, according to the shooting investigation. 

David Donovan, 35, was shot and killed by police in Meredith in November 2020 when he charged at police, armed with a knife and covered in blood from having just stabbed his mother’s boyfriend, according to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s report. Donovan’s methamphetamine use caused him to become violent, paranoid, and delusional in the months leading up to his fatal encounter with Meredith police.

In October of 2020, Ethan Freeman, 37, of Thornton, was shot and killed by Thornton Police Officer Matthew Yao when a naked and bleeding Freeman charged Yao during a confrontation. Freemen had a history of methamphetamine and other drug abuse, as well as a significant history of mental health issues.

In December 2020, Mark Clermont, a paranoid felon who was known to carry an assault-style rifle and wear a ballistic vest while hunting for alien spacecraft, was shot and killed by New Hampshire State Police Trooper Matthew Merrill during a gun battle Clermont had started. Clermont was known to use methamphetamines. Merrill suffered gunshot wounds during the incident. He survived.

Those drugs ending up in the hands of armed dealers and users are a real concern of law enforcement, Farley said.

“We’re seeing a lot more drug dealers who are armed,” he said. “When a methamphetamine dealer is armed, or is using, the public safety risk is substantial. The impacts that methamphetamine has on thought processes can really create a public safety risk.”

Judge Rejects Lawsuit Blaming Derry Gun Store For Cop Shooting

Superior Court Judge David Ruoff ruled against two Manchester police officers injured in a 2016 shooting in a lawsuit the officers brought against a Derry gun store.

“This is absolutely a great day for gun rights in New Hampshire,” said Sean List, the attorney for Chester Arms in Derry.

Manchester officers Ryan Hardy and Matthew O’Connor were reportedly shot by Ian Macpherson in May 2016 when they tried to question him about a gas station armed robbery. Hardy was shot in the face and torso; O’Connor was treated for a gunshot wound to the leg, according to the Associated Press. Both officers have since returned to active duty.

The officers brought a lawsuit against Chester Arms, the store where MacPherson bought his .40 caliber Smith and Wesson. They also sued the New Hampshire Department of Safety, claiming that the mentally ill MacPherson, who has a history of domestic violence, should never have been sold the gun in the first place.

Ruoff ruled in a summary judgment order that O’Connor and Hardy would not have prevailed if the case had gone to trial because both the store and the Department of Safety followed current law. List said it is possible the pair will appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, but he’s unconcerned about the prospect.

“We feel very confident that if it is appealed, the Supreme Court will find judge Ruoff’s order is correct,” List said.

Stephen Gutowski, editor of The Reload, the nation’s leading journal on gun issues, tells NHJournal he sees the Chester Arms case in a larger, national context.

“This case is part of a broader decades-long strategy by gun-control advocates to hold gun makers and retailers liable for gun crimes they aren’t directly implicated in. It’s not surprising they fell short here. However, the loss is unlikely to deter advocates from pursuing more cases like this moving forward,” Gutowski said.

Representatives for the Manchester Police Department declined to comment, and Mayor Joyce Craig’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Mark Morrissette, the attorney representing O’Conner and Hardy, told NHPR he wanted the case to force New Hampshire to start following federal law on background checks.

MacPherson ended up pleading not guilty by reason of insanity in 2018. He was ordered to serve five years in the New Hampshire State Psychiatric Hospital.

MacPherson was initially unable to purchase the gun when he went to Chester Arms in March 2016. The store employee contacted the state’s “gun check line,” run by the Department of Safety, for a background check on him. The gun line told the store that MacPherson’s status was “delayed” for further investigation, according to Ruoff’s order.

The gun line investigation found MacPherson’s domestic violence cases did not trigger any legal prohibition that would prevent him from owning a firearm. The gun line employees were also unable to verify his mental health condition, according to the order.

While that information was given to the Department of Safety and the Gun Line, the state never told Chester Arms not to sell MacPherson the gun.

The gun line investigation found the relationships to the victims in MacPherson’s domestic violence cases, those convictions did meet the legal definition of a violation that would prevent him from owning a firearm. The gun line employees were also unable to verify his mental health condition, according to the order.

The store followed the law by waiting three business days to hear back from the gun line. After not being contacted by the state, the store allowed MacPherson to buy the gun, according to Ruoff’s order. MacPherson’s gun line status continued to stay “delayed” for the weeks he owned the gun and did not change until after he shot the officers.

“The gun line continued the delay status on Mr. MacPherson’s transaction until the day he was indicted for the shooting, at which point the gun line changed the status to denied,” Ruoff wrote. 

List said gun dealers have immunity when they sell guns so long as they do not commit felonies during the course of an individual gun sale. 

Morrissette told NHPR that even though the store and the Department of Safety followed the rules, the laws should not allow someone like MacPherson to purchase a gun. The lawsuit wanted to have the laws protecting dealers ruled unconstitutional.

“It is not an effort to undermine the Second Amendment. There are laws in place that limit the purchase or possession of weapons, or at least to have someone look at this in a deliberate fashion to make sure that people are not unreasonably harmed,” Morrissette said. “The laws were there. The guidelines were there and they should be looked at. I think at the end of the day, in this case, Mr. MacPherson was a tormented person without overstating it in any way. And to believe that he was rightly given a weapon just runs counter to common sense and it runs counter to the law.”

Ruoff found that the laws protecting Chester Arms serve to protect the right to bear arms.