PORTLAND — It was late afternoon when U.S. marshals first saw Arien L’Italien in Portland’s Parkside neighborhood — not a good time of day to close in on a wanted man in a densely populated area.

They made their move an hour later, as L’Italien and another man walked uphill on Mellen Street.

Members of the Violent Offender Task Force closed in on the men and announced themselves as police. L’Italien turned with a look of surprise, John Gill, a Scarborough police officer assigned to the task force, said at L’Italien’s sentencing hearing Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

Gill saw a cone of light coming from L’Italien’s hand and realized L’Italien had fired a gun in his direction. For a moment, Gill said, he thought he had been shot. He dove onto the sidewalk and fired his weapon.

There was more gunfire, shouted arrest commands and the realization that L’Italien had been shot. Gill moved in to handcuff L’Italien.

On Tuesday, District Judge Nancy Torresen sentenced L’Italien to 18 years and four months in prison and five years of probation for his role in the Jan. 27 shootout.

L’Italien, 23, of Biddeford, pleaded guilty in March to assault on a federal officer, being a felon in possession of a firearm and using a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.

He initially was charged with attempted murder of a federal officer, but the prosecutor decided not to pursue that charge.

“You are a very violent young man and it is only by the grace of God you have not killed anybody yet,” Torresen said.

A fuller picture of the shootout and L’Italien’s history emerged during the hearing.

Marshals spoke of feeling horror when they thought Gill had been killed, hearing the air contracting as a bullet whizzed by them, and watching a colleague give medical care to L’Italien, who asked them for help, thinking the marshals would let him bleed to death.

About three dozen people, mostly from law enforcement, attended the hearing.

Court documents indicate that four members of the task force were involved in the incident, and identify three: Gill, Jesse Belanger and Michael Tenuta, the task force coordinator. The documents do not disclose who shot L’Italien.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Chapman noted that L’Italien’s criminal history included 10 juvenile and seven adult cases. The prosecutor outlined incidents that involved striking or stabbing people, the smashing of a store display case with a brick, and a joy ride that damaged his mother’s vehicle.

At the time of the shootout, marshals were trying to arrest L’Italien on a warrant for aggravated assault. He was accused of stabbing a 20-year-old man in the neck in Biddeford on New Year’s Day.

Not mentioned Tuesday was L’Italien’s security breach at the Cumberland County Jail in March. Officials say he sneaked out of his maximum-security cell to have sex with a female inmate. He has since been transferred to the Maine State Prison in Warren.

Jean Joseph, L’Italien’s mother, tearfully described how she raised her children herself to escape their abusive father. She said she let the state take custody of him when he was 13, believing he would get treatment for marijuana use.

But he got involved with the wrong people, she said, and left the Long Creek Development Center with a “gangster mentality.”

Joseph said her son must have acted in fear, and didn’t intend to hurt anyone. “Please don’t send him so far away that I never see him ever, ever again,” she asked Torresen, who doesn’t have the authority to assign prisoners to particular facilities.

L’Italien addressed the court briefly, saying that he will try to improve himself during his incarceration, and that he accepts responsibility for his actions.

“If I could take it back, I would,” he said.

As he was taken out of the courtroom, he blew a kiss to his mother. He told her “Love you, Mom,” as he touched his heart with his shackled hands.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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