Suspect fatally shot by deputy wanted to die in suicide by cop, coroner says

Published: Mar. 31, 2023 at 5:54 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 31, 2023 at 10:46 PM EDT
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HILLSBORO, Ohio (WXIX) - There is new information on a deputy-involved fatal shooting in Highland County last summer.

Deputy Dustin Malone, 54, faces a felony charge in the July 17 2022 death of 58-year-old Richard Poulin.

Poulin fled a traffic stop that turned into a high-speed chase around midnight through the county and Hillsboro.

Last week, Deputy Malone, who has been with the sheriff’s office since 1998, pleaded not guilty to one count of reckless homicide. He was planning to plead no contest for probation in a plea deal agreement with a special prosecutor but the deal “fell apart,” his attorney says.

The judge put the deputy him on house arrest, set an August trial date and the sheriff’s office changed his paid leave to an unpaid one.

The veteran law enforcement official faces up to three years in prison. A felony conviction would end his career because he would be prohibited from having a gun.

Now, we are learning the Highland County coroner actually ruled this case a suicide back on Feb. 16.

Dr. Jeffrey Beery tells FOX19 NOW he believes Poulin wanted to die and he wanted to die in a way commonly referred to as “suicide by cop.”

Poulin’s death certificate shows his cause of death is listed as a single gunshot wound to his neck.

The manner of death is ruled a suicide even though it was Deputy Malone who pulled the trigger.

The other significant conditions contributing to Poulin’s death but not resulting in the underlying causes are listed on the death certificate as: “Suicidal ideation of dying in a final confrontation with law enforcement.”

Poulin also was drunk at the time of his death, according to the coroner.

His blood alcohol level was 0.202, nearly three times the legal limit of 0.08, his death certificate shows.

His toxicology report did not detect any drugs in his system, something the coroner said they expected.

A witness told a coroner’s investigator he had used “anything and everything’,” Dr. Beery tells FOX19 NOW.

Deputy Jonathan Malone appeared in court Thursday in connection with the 2022 officer-involved...
Deputy Jonathan Malone appeared in court Thursday in connection with the 2022 officer-involved shooting that resulted in the death of 58-year-old Richard Poulin.(WXIX)

The death certificate and Poulin’s cause and manner of death were all finalized a month before the deputy’s plea hearing on March 23.

The coroner says he met with the special prosecutor at the Ohio Attorney General’s Office who is overseeing the case, Anthony Pierson, and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation in mid-January to give them his preliminary ruling.

The Highland County Prosecutor’s Office requested a special prosecutor from the attorney general’s handle the case shortly after Poulin’s death and has had no involvement in it. The sheriff’s office asked BCI to investigate.

The county coroner said he confirmed Pierson and the BCI case agent were aware of his findings after he issued Poulin’s death certificate. He said he wanted to make sure they weren’t “blindsided” with the case coming up in court the following month.

While the coroner wouldn’t divulge details of what prompted him to conclude Poulin’s death was a suicide, he did say “we knew early on that he had made suicidal ideation of dying in a final confrontation with law enforcement.” He said he was even further convinced after talking with BCI.

He says his investigation took so long because he wasn’t able to look at BCI’s case files. He had to follow a process of giving them questions and waiting for those answers. Then, he had more questions and so on.

It delayed the process “a bit,” he acknowledged Friday but said he felt BCI was very transparent with him. He says he was able to get all the crucial facts he needed to make his ruling.

Still, the coroner says he “can’t understand” why the Ohio Attorney General’s Office is still pursuing a criminal prosecution against Deputy Malone in light of the suicide determination.

“I just treasure the separation of power we have in this country where different elected officials can do their best to follow the law to do the will of their constituents,” he said.

“It offers checks and balances, unlike other countries where they have a single dictator and everyone tries to walk in lockstep and they can easily be led down the wrong path and they can make terrible mistakes, as we have seen through world history.”

Dr. Beery, who has been the coroner for 11 years and served as the deputy coroner for several years before that, says none of his rulings have ever been overturned.

Deputy Malone’s lawyer, Joshua Engel, said Friday he just learned about the coroner’s findings a few days ago.

“My thoughts are first curiosity and concern,” Engel said.

He filed a request with the court for copies of the state’s evidence against his client, including the coroner’s findings.

“This is certainly the beginning of new evidence and the Attorney’s General Office has an obligation to turn over to us all the evidence they have, in particular any evidence that might be useful to the defense.

“So the fact that the suspect might have been trying to instigate a confrontation with law enforcement is a very important piece of information that would go to how this tragic incident happened.”

A spokesman for the attorney general’s office and BCI declined to comment Friday “as the criminal proceedings remain ongoing.”

Deputy Malone, meanwhile, plans to quit his longtime job at the sheriff’s office soon.

He has a family and children and is now working for a package delivery company to help make ends meet.

The conditions of his house arrest permit him to go to work, church, his kids’ school and events, and medical appointments.

He is dismayed his career is ending this way, his attorney said: “When someone has worked in law enforcement for years that becomes their life.”

Poulin’s death is a tragic accident but Deputy Malone didn’t mean to kill anyone.

He was working an overtime shift that night.

Poulin ran a stop sign on Ohio 62 south of Hillsboro and then led deputies on a high-speed chase, his attorney said.

The pursuit went to an area near 5760 U.S. 62 and ended with the deputy shooting and killing Poulin, according to BCI.

Poulin had at least one warrant out for his arrest but the deputy didn’t know that at the time, Engel said.

As Malone approached Poulin’s vehicle, he had his gun in his left hand and a baton in his right hand, according to his attorney. He ordered Poulin to get out of his car but Poulin wasn’t complying, according to his attorney.

“When [Deputy Malone] approached the vehicle, he had his gun drawn,” Engel said. “He struck the vehicle’s window with his baton to break the window. When he struck the vehicle the weapon discharged, striking the driver, causing the death of the driver.”

Poulin was pronounced dead at the scene.

Deputy Malone and other deputies administered first aid in an attempt to save his life, his attorney said.

“Obviously he’s upset that someone was injured during the course of his duty. I think every officer wants people to come home safely. Even the people that lead them on chases and put them at risk,” Engel said.

FOX19 NOW asked him if the deputy used bad tactics and/or violated department policy by having a weapon in each hand at the same time.

Engel said no sheriff’s policies were violated.

This was, he said, a fast-moving, fluid situation in which the deputy didn’t know if Poulin was armed as he approached his vehicle. He had warrants out for his arrest but the deputy didn’t know that at the time.

What Deputy Malone did know was this was a person who had just led him and multiple other law enforcement officers on a high-speed chase and was still apparently not obeying orders.

“There is no policy that would cover this,” his attorney said.

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