The New Hampshire Attorney General has concluded Derry Police Officer Kevin Ruppel’s use of deadly force in the shooting of Andrew Toto, 53, on Jan. 21 was legally justified.
Attorney General Joseph A. Foster released on Tuesday, Aug. 25 a report summarizing his Office’s findings and conclusions based on information gathered during the investigation.
This is the first time that the name of the officer involved has been made public.
Interviews of Toto’s family members and friends reveal he suffered from mental health issues, alcoholism and drug addiction; and that he threatened on several occasions to commit “suicide by cop.”
Toto’s wife, Jean Toto, told police on the day of the shooting her husband had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, but was not receiving medical treatment or taking medication.
She said Toto had been drinking heavily on and off since the Saturday before the shooting, and was suffering emotional distress related to the passing of a friend and inquiries into the welfare of their child following an incident where her husband picked their daughter up from school while intoxicated.
The call sent Toto into distress and he was heavily intoxicated thereafter, causing his wife to check in on him from work and monitor his whereabouts.
Jean Toto said the following day, her husband made threats of suicide and left their home, drunk, in his truck. Toto had previously threatened “suicide by cop” twice within the past two years.
A chemical analysis of Toto’s blood after the shooting revealed a blood alcohol content of .222.
Ruppel, who was interviewed by investigators from the New Hampshire State Police Major Crime Unit on Jan. 29 and again on July 23, reported he was parked in his cruiser when he heard dispatch broadcast an alert for a blue Chevrolet pick-up truck in the area of Pinyon Place on Jan. 21 around 8 a.m.
He spotted the truck traveling in the opposite direction on Scobie Pond Road, and when he turned to follow, the truck accelerated, driving into the oncoming lane of traffic and passing two other vehicles.
Shortly after initiating the pursuit, Toto stopped his truck in the road on Julian Road.
Uncertain of Toto’s intentions, Ruppel slowed his cruiser to a stop at a distance on Scobie Pond Road.
The drivers of the two vehicles Toto passed in the road gave reports of the incident that were consistent with Ruppel’s account.
Toto exited the truck holding what Ruppel believed to be a rifle. Ruppel yelled “Gun!” over his radio.
As Toto leveled and aimed the rifle at the cruiser, Ruppel got out and took cover behind the rear of his vehicle. The two civilian motorists he passed were stopped behind him in the road.
Ruppel heard a shot fired and tried to advise dispatch. Fearing for his safety and the drivers in the road behind him, Ruppel returned fire.
Ruppel described the exchange of fire as being similar to “whack-a-mole,” with each man firing, then ducking for cover. He thinks he fired five to six shots at Toto at that time.
Believing his and civilian lives were at imminent risk, Ruppel fired at Toto. He saw Toto twitch, after which he immediately took cover. When he peeked out again, Toto was lying down under the truck.
Jacqueline Lane of 46 Scobie Pond Lane, whose home faces Julian Road, saw Toto holding what she thinks was a rifle, moving up and down behind the truck for cover and aiming his rifle down Scobie Pond Road.
Lane said after hearing a “barrage” of gunshots, she saw Toto hold his hands in the air, and slowly fall to the ground.
Lane said she thought he going to surrender, but then saw he was slowly falling to the ground. She told police she believed Toto had already been shot before he put his hands up.
Physical evidence, the officer’s cruiser camera video, Toto’s autopsy and other investigative interviews with witnesses and responding officers also confirmed Ruppel’s account of the incident, and that his use of deadly force was legally justified.
Toto was transported to Parkland Medical Center in Derry. He was unconscious when he arrived at the emergency room, and was later pronounced dead.
The autopsy revealed Toto died from a single gunshot would to the chest.
Derry Police Capt. Vern Thomas said all officers undergo intensive training for deadly force incidents, which includes regular firearms training.
“We always know there’s the potential for something like this to happen, so we make sure officers are well versed in that,” he said.
Thomas said there are peer groups to which officers who experience such a highly traumatic incident can go for counsel.
All officers must also undergo a psychological evaluation before returning to work.