Mar. 24—CONCORD — A man involved in a fatal shootout with a New Hampshire State Police trooper two days before Christmas was a convicted felon who used a modified AK-47 and two high-capacity magazines in the gun battle, authorities said Wednesday.
Mark R. Clermont, 45, was shot and killed in the nighttime shootout with Trooper Matthew Merrill in Dalton, according to a media briefing and 47-page report released Wednesday by Acting Attorney General Jane Young. Young ruled the shooting justified under New Hampshire law.
At least 30 rounds were exchanged by Merrill and Clermont, while residents of a Bridge Hill Road mobile home huddled in their playroom shed in Dalton, a town of about 1,000 in the North Country just north of Whitefield, authorities said.
Clermont started the gun battle while he and the trooper struggled on the ground. During the struggle and two separate gun battles that ensued, Merrill felt confused at times, couldn't see and felt his trigger was gummy, said Associate Attorney General Jeff Strelzin.
Meanwhile, the owner of the property and his family, Chris Landry, at one point struck Clermont with the handle of a machete to keep him from entering their shed, which was the family playroom. After Merrill shot and killed Clermont, he retreated to the house of a neighbor across the street, who let him in, called 911 and tended to his wounds.
"Trooper Matthew Merrill acted honorably and heroically in the face of incredible danger, and I am grateful that his health continues to improve every day," said state police Col. Nathan Noyes in a statement issued Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the director of GunSense NH said measures vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu last year could have prevented the shootout.
"Closing background check loopholes and extreme-risk protection orders could have prevented this situation," said Zandra Rice Hawkins.
Sununu's office did not have an immediate comment.
Clermont was a convicted felon who was not supposed to own firearms. Yet when he fled a traffic stop on Dec. 23 he had a pistol in a holster, was wearing a ballistic vest and had an AK-47 in a black bag beside him. Serial numbers had been removed from the weapon, and its stock was removed, which made it easier to carry around.
Some friends say Clermont wore the bulletproof vest at times, and the Landrys said he carried the AK-47 around in a bag. Others said he drove around at night looking for alien spacecraft.
"It's unclear whether this was unusual for him, meaning carrying two weapons was unusual. It's impossible to determine what his motives were that night," Strelzin said.
Strelzin said police were once called to the Whitefield home that Clermont shares with others after he exhibited strange behavior. Police gave his roommates information on how to obtain an involuntary committal, but that never took place.
Strelzin said authorities have not determined how Clermont obtained the weapons. He said high-capacity magazines, which hold a maximum of 30 rounds, are legal in New Hampshire.
Family members and friends said Clermont was an intelligent and easygoing person who had turned paranoid and believed federal agents and aliens were out to get him. He also had started using methamphetamine and told friends he would not go back to prison if caught driving without a license.
A trooper for nine years, Merrill was struck twice in the gun battle — in the abdomen just below his bulletproof vest and in his foot. He is still recovering from his injuries but plans to return to police work, Strelzin said.
Noyes said state police and the Merrill family are grateful for the support after the shooting. A GoFundMe page raised $155,000 for Merrill in the months after he was shot.
"I extend my condolences to anyone affected by this heartbreaking event," Noyes' statement read. "Whenever there is loss of life, regardless of the circumstances, it is a tragedy for family and friends."