March 15, 2010

Two days of turmoil preceded shooting


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Gordon Chibroski

Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — Two police officers will remain on paid leave while the state Attorney General's Office reviews their actions in the fatal shooting of a 29-year-old man outside his home before dawn Monday.

Michael S. Norton, the chief financial officer for a health care company, died after he was shot by police at 745 Main St.

Officers Benjamin Macisso and John Sutton, members of the South Portland Special Reaction Team, apparently fired weapons after Norton emerged from his house carrying a weapon and disobeyed orders to drop it.

David Loughran, spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, said investigators will work to determine whether Macisso and Sutton were legally justified in using deadly force against Norton. The office investigates all incidents in which deadly force is used by police officers in Maine.

Loughran said both officers fired, but he would not say what types of weapons were used or how many rounds were fired. The Special Reaction Team is a tactical squad that uses a range of weapons, from traditional firearms to guns that shoot bean bags.

It was the second fatal police shooting in South Portland in two years. Donald Gray, 40, was killed on Nov. 29, 2006, at his home on Simmons Road, where he lived with his parents. Police said Gray pointed a loaded pistol at officer Jeffrey Cogswell, despite a flurry of verbal warnings.

The Attorney General's Office determined that Cogswell and officer Theodore Sargent were justified in the shooting.

On Sunday, police got a call at 9:24 p.m. from relatives of Norton who said he was threatening suicide at the two-family house he owned at 745 Main St., also known as Route 1. The green 2½-story house is across from Simple Simon's Restaurant and the Quality Inn and Suites.

Police said they knew Norton from a similar emergency call on Saturday at the same address. Police Chief Ed Googins said officers responded to that call and Norton was taken to a hospital for evaluation.

On Sunday, relatives told police that Norton had checked himself out of the hospital and was again expressing a desire to kill himself.

He was in his house with a woman when police arrived around 9:30 p.m.

''Negotiators worked for over three hours to coax (Norton) to come outside so officers could determine his well-being,'' Googins said during a press conference Monday morning at police headquarters.

At 1:38 a.m., the woman came out, unharmed. Fifteen minutes later, Norton came out and ''engaged in an armed confrontation with tactical officers,'' the chief said.

Video of the incident, taken by WMTW-TV in Portland, shows Norton leaving the house with his hands by his sides. Officers can be heard saying repeatedly, ''Put it down.''

The television crew heard one shot fired, and continued to record the incident as emergency medical technicians assisted Norton.

The Associated Press reported Monday that witnesses said Norton had a knife. Officials would not confirm those reports.

William McKinley, the lawyer representing Macisso and Sutton, said he met with the officers after the shooting early Monday morning. He declined to comment on their accounts of the incident, or how they were doing in the aftermath.

McKinley, of the Portland firm Troubh Heisler, said he expects the state's review of the shooting could take ''four weeks or six weeks.''

''It's not something that's going to take two days or two years,'' he said.

Norton's parents, Terrence and Suzzanne Norton of Eliot, declined to comment Monday afternoon.

''At this point we are just stunned. Of course, we loved him very much,'' Suzzanne Norton said.

Norton was chief financial officer for almost three years at Maine Centers for Healthcare, a practice with 11 doctors and five facilities in Greater Portland.

''He was bright. He was industrious. He was good-natured and a very likable human being,'' said Owen Pickus, a doctor who owns the business and also is an attorney, now representing Norton's parents.

''The parents are devastated, obviously, as many of us are,'' Pickus said. ''His father was the one who notified South Portland police to please come and evaluate him.

''What we were looking for for Mike was to make sure he was safe and did not do himself any harm and got the necessary care to make him back to the very strong, industrious guy he was,'' said Pickus, who described himself as a close friend of Norton.

Pickus said he knows things about Norton's circumstances that he cannot share, but he is still trying to get answers about Monday's incident and the days preceding it.

''This was an ongoing circumstance for three days,'' he said, noting that the efforts to get Norton help had started Friday night.

Pickus said he planned to interview a witness to the shooting to get a better understanding of what happened and how the officers responded.

''He never gave me a sense he would ever be a danger to anyone,'' Pickus said. ''Nonlethal means of subduing him would appear to be adequate.

''No one is suggesting South Portland has by any means acted improperly, but we are not saying they did (act properly) either,'' Pickus said.

The attorney general's investigation will have to be complete before investigators can share all the details of what happened, Pickus said. ''Then we can determine whether any further action, civilly, should be taken,'' he said.

Norton had no significant criminal history. He was fined twice, in 1999 and 2000, for illegal possession of marijuana, and was fined $200 in 2004 for criminal mischief after he broke a car window, according to court records.

A 1999 charge of obstructing government administration was dismissed.

Last year, Norton got into a dispute with a tenant who accused him of entering her apartment without permission and threatening to take away her parking space, she wrote in court papers seeking a temporary protection-from-harassment order. The woman moved out and the order lapsed.

Norton and a woman named Lauren Carr bought the property at 745 Main St. in the summer of 2006 for $252,000, according to city property records.

Earlier this year, Carr released her interest in the property to Norton. She could not be reached Monday.

David Stanley, who lives next to Norton's house, said he was kept awake for several hours by the flashing police lights late Sunday night into Monday morning, but fell asleep and did not hear any shots.

Staff Writer David Hench contributed to this report.

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

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