An Idaho State Police trooper who shot a fugitive to death during a pursuit north of Coeur d’Alene in February will not face charges.
Trooper Dan Howard was justified when he used deadly force to stop a Jeep that was backing toward him after a collision, the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office said Thursday.
Howard fired several shots, six of which hit the Jeep. One bullet entered through a passenger side window, while the others went into the rear window. Investigators believe Howard was aiming at the Jeep’s driver, Mark M. Maykopet, a fugitive from Butte, but one of the shots hit Maykopet’s wife, 40-year-old Christie Ann Little, aka O’Leary, also a fugitive.
Little, who was wanted for federal probation violations, was breathing when medics arrived on the scene but soon died of her gunshot wound.
Maykopet, 25, suffered only minor injuries after being grazed by a bullet.
Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Shawna Dunn said Little’s seat was slightly reclined, which led to her being shot even though bullet holes on the Jeep showed Howard was aiming at Maykopet in the driver’s seat.
“Her seat was basically in the line of fire between the trooper and the driver,” Dunn said.
Dunn said the decision hinged on the “reasonableness standard” – did Howard reasonably believe his life was in danger and was deadly force his only option?
Maykopet, also known as Mark Macy, told investigators he did not know where Howard was when he quickly reversed the Jeep and said he did not intend to hit him, rather he was trying to turn around to flee the scene.
Maykopet told police “that he expected the Trooper to get out of his way and that he intended to continue to flee from the encounter,” according to a report from Ada County prosecutors issued Thursday.
In a letter to The Spokesman-Review, Maykopet asks of Howard: “Why did you shoot us in the heads while we were driving away from you. That’s not protocol.”
But Howard told Kootenai County sheriff’s Sgt. Brad Maskell that he believed Maykopet was trying to run him over after first ramming his patrol car.
“That one of those shots struck and killed Ms. Little is regrettable and a tragedy for her family,” according to the report. “However, in light of the risk the vehicle posed to Trooper Howard and other officers responding to the scene, the shooting was justified.”
Kootenai County prosecutors sent the case to Ada County for review because they will be handling the criminal case against Maykopet, who is in custody in Montana on Department of Corrections charges.
Howard did not agree to an interview with investigators until four weeks after the fatal shooting, but prosecutors say he was consistent with a brief statement he made the night of the incident in which he told a sheriff’s deputy that the other car “rammed my car and then they were coming back at me.”
Howard had stopped Maykopet on U.S. Highway 95 for speeding. He smelled marijuana and learned Maykopet had an escape warrant for his arrest in Montana, so he waited for another officer to arrive before approaching the vehicle again. Howard didn’t immediately know Little was a fugitive because she provided a different name.
Cpl. Sean Lind arrived and he and Howard asked Maykopet to step out of the Jeep, but he instead drove away, running at least one stop sign and reaching speeds of nearly 100 mph.
Howard followed Maykopet onto Ramsey Road as Lind took another route to try to get in front of the Jeep.
Howard’s airbag deployed after the Jeep struck his patrol car, and he was concerned about being visible in the headlights of the Jeep so he left the patrol car and ran to the northbound lane hoping to escape injury. That’s when he saw the Jeep back toward him and he fired his gun several times.
Maykopet stopped after realizing Little had been hit.
Police found two firearms in the Jeep. Both Maykopet and Little had felony convictions that prohibited them from possessing guns.