PORTLAND – The family of a 29-year-old man who was shot and killed by South Portland police outside his home two years ago has sued the city, the police chief and two officers.

In his excessive-force and wrongful-death lawsuit in federal court, Terrence Norton of Eliot claims that police should have used nonlethal methods to deal with his son Michael Norton, who had bipolar disorder and was suicidal at the time of the shooting on Aug. 25, 2008.

Michael Norton was the chief financial officer of a small health care company in Westbrook, and lived in a house he owned on Main Street in South Portland. Norton made numerous suicide threats and was hospitalized briefly in the three days leading up to his death.

“This case highlights a real gap in the realities of how the police react to situations in which somebody is armed and refusing to comply with orders to drop a weapon, and the realities of people who are suffering from a mental illness or mental breakdown, and who are suicidal, but have not necessarily committed a crime,” said Elliott Epstein, the lawyer for the Norton family.

“There are really three issues,” Epstein said. “Did they need to make him come out of the house; had they made appropriate provisions for the use of nonlethal force; and was there any reasonable cause to believe Michael was about to put police in danger?

“We believe that if it had been done properly, he would still be alive,” he said.

The Maine Attorney General’s Office found the officers legally justified in using deadly force against Norton after a four-hour standoff at his home, and South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins has defended the actions of his department.

Googins declined comment Wednesday because he and the other defendants had not been served with the lawsuit and he had not read it.

“Our heart goes out to the family. That is not the outcome we were hoping for that evening,” Googins said in an interview in 2008. “We feel our actions were proper.”

Three days before the shooting, a psychiatrist called police to say that Norton was suicidal and was trying to buy a shotgun. He apparently was unable to buy the gun at a store in Scarborough because of a glitch in the store’s computer system. The store later approved the sale and planned to notify Norton that he could pick up the gun.

Other people, including family members, friends and co-workers, notified police that Norton was suicidal. Officers showed up at Norton’s house on Aug. 23, 2008, and took him to Maine Medical Center for evaluation. He was transferred for further evaluation and treatment at Southern Maine Medical Center in Biddeford, and was discharged the next day.

On the night of Aug. 24, Norton was in his house with a close friend. His father, Terrence Norton, called police to say he had spoken to Michael Norton on the phone and he was still suicidal, agitated and at some points incoherent.

South Portland officers arrived at Norton’s home on Main Street around 9:30 p.m. When contacted by telephone, Norton told police that he wasn’t suicidal, but he refused to come outside. Police learned that he had been drinking and taking prescription drugs.

According to the lawsuit, police called Norton repeatedly and used a public address system in an attempt to get him to leave the home.

Norton’s friend came out of the house at 1:38 a.m. and told police that Norton was alone and was suicidal. that point, several officers had surrounded the house. About 15 minutes later, Norton walked out onto his deck carrying a small knife in each hand. According to the attorney general’s report, he challenged officers to shoot him and used a finger to outline a circle on his chest.

Officers Benjamin Macisso and John Sutton were stationed at the tree line on one side of the property, and Officers Scott Corbett and Patricia Maynard stood near a car in Norton’s driveway.

Norton ignored the officers’ orders to drop the knives and walked toward the officers in the driveway. When Norton was about 15 feet from them, Macisso fired a single round from his .223-caliber rifle, hitting Norton in the jaw.

At the same time, Sutton fired a shotgun loaded with a nonlethal beanbag round, which apparently missed Norton.

Police are trained to view someone with a knife as an imminent threat if they are within 21 feet, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office has said, because of the speed at which an attacker can cover that distance.

The lawsuit filed by Norton’s family names Googins, Macisso and Lt. Todd Bernard as defendants. The monetary cap on wrongful-death damages in Maine is $400,000.

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:

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