By R.C. REIS, Special to InDepthNH.org
WHITEFIELD, N.H. – A detailed review of police logs in the small town of Whitefield from May through December chronicle public complaints and police action involving 45-year-old Mark R. Clermont, the man who allegedly shot and critically wounded New Hampshire State Trooper Matthew Merrill on Dec. 23.
Clermont died in an exchange of gunfire with Merrill, according to a news release from Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, who is heading the investigation. The attorney general said Clermont was armed with a rifle and a handgun and that the deadly exchange happened after Clermont’s car was stopped at around 9 p.m.
MacDonald said Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Mitchell Weinberg determined after an autopsy that Clermont had died from a gunshot wound to the head while the trooper sustained gunshot wounds and is being treated in a hospital.
“A number of the complaints to the department were regarding concerns for (Clermont’s) mental health,” Whitefield Police Chief Edward Samson said on Monday. These complaints prompted his department to issue an “intelligence bulletin” on Sept. 19, warning other law enforcement agencies of their concerns about Clermont and potential risk to the public.
Beginning May 9 and continuing until Dec. 23, the day before the encounter on Bridge Hill Road in nearby Dalton, Clermont, who lived at 35 Prospect St. with two other people, had been the subject of complaints, suspicious activity reports, and allegations of heavy drug use and intoxication.
Clermont was the center of a Sept. 19 incident that accused him of brandishing a handgun while driving around Whitefield, a town of 2,300 in the White Mountains region.
The September incident and subsequent investigation by Sgt. Maxwell Hodgdon gave rise to questions about Clermont’s mental stability.
It began with a call from the Lancaster dispatch reporting a man driving a 2007 Chrysler 4-door sedan and waving a gun out the window. Police identified the complainant as Tim O’Neal who told police he pulled into the Jiffy Mart on Pleasant Street and saw a man holding a gun out the window telling him, “I am going to kill you and take your land.”
The police log says said the driver was wearing a hunter-orange sweatshirt. A witness verified O’Neal’s account.
Sgt. Hodgdon spotted a car fitting the description and followed it to Clermont’s address, a small pre-fabricated home on Prospect Street. When the police sergeant arrived, he found Clermont yelling at him as he approached. “I attempted to speak with him for a few minutes, and he told me he was going to get in his spaceship and blow my cruiser up later,” Hodgdon reported.
Hodgdon asked Clermont if he was in possession of a weapon, and, according to the log, Clermont replied, “You wanna find out?” A State Police back-up unit was summoned, “But he continued to yell about the satellites being hacked and people watching him,” according to the log entry. Clermont then removed his orange sweatshirt to reveal he was wearing a bulletproof vest.
Officers interviewed a woman living at the same address, identified as Melody Pilotte, who warned them a confrontation with Clermont might result in someone dying. “She knows of no weapons in the house but is very scared for us and him if we deal with him because she feels someone is going to die,” the log states.
Other details in the police blotter allege Clermont had a long drug history and at the time of the Sept. 19 episode was “in an extreme mental state.” This entry was titled with the words “Officer Safety” and included a warning: “Do not approach the subject or the residence without another officer with you.”
Samson said a number of the complaints concerned Clermont’s mental health, which poses difficult challenges for police, especially where mental health services may be lacking.
“There is no specific watch list they are put on nor state database,” Samson said. “What generally happens is the department issues an intelligence bulletin to the state and surrounding law enforcement agencies advising of the subject and potential concerns.”
Samson said Merrill, an 8-year veteran of the State Police, may have been aware of prior background information on Clermont, but the Department of Justice investigators have yet to disclose whether the trooper actually knew the identity of the occupant of the vehicle he was pulling over on the night of Dec. 23.
Spokesperson Kate Giaquinto said in a statement on Wednesday, “As this is an ongoing investigation, we are unable to comment or provide information beyond what has already been publicly issued. Additionally, I do not expect further details in this matter to be released until a final report is completed.”
The police log states that Sgt. Hodgdon explained to Clermont’s housemate Pilotte, the process for filing a petition for “Involuntary Emergency Admission” a legal remedy for dealing with individuals who may be a threat to themselves or others. The granting of such a petition which might have taken Clermont off the street for an indeterminate amount of time is granted “in the form of a prayer and complaint,” according to Samson.
“A party with direct knowledge of the issues generally executes the petition, most often a family member or close friend,” Samson said. “Law enforcement is contacted to take the person into custody and transport them to a hospital for evaluation.” The chief said that his department did not have enough direct evidence of Clermont’s mental state to take that step.
Police say Clermont had a pending charge before a Coos County grand jury of driving while being a “Habitual Offender.” The case was pending before the grand jury and had been delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. While statutory penalties for habitual driving offenders can be up to a year in jail, most sentences are suspended or result in light sentences, Samson said.
The Department of Motor Vehicles was asked about Clermont’s driving record but referred inquiries about his case to the Attorney General’s Office.
Samson expressed concerns this week about the general lack of mental health services especially in northern New Hampshire, and the difficulty officers face in dealing with individuals exhibiting extreme mental stress. “Mental health is certainly the most unpredictable (of) calls we handle, so every case is responded to as needed.”
According to a published obituary, Clermont grew up in Lowell, Mass., and attended the University of New Hampshire, studying chemical engineering. The necrology said he was employed for many years at TVC as a chemical engineer.