December 12, 2012

Mental illness sets off a tragic downward spiral

A man charges officers with knives, forcing them to shoot him, but his father says police should have handled the situation differently.

By David Hench
Staff Writer

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Michael Norton, 29, was shot and killed by South Portland police in a 2008 standoff following a period during which his behavior had become increasingly erratic. A state-mandated review of the incident said police were justified in the shooting.

Contributed photo

Police, aware of Norton's mental health crisis, had planned to fire a less-than-lethal beanbag round, but instead of Norton coming out the front door, where that officer was located, he came out the back of the house. Sgt. John Sutton repositioned himself with the beanbag-equipped shotgun, but just as he fired, so did Officer Benjamin Macisso.

Macisso's single rifle shot killed Norton.

Terry Norton said he is convinced the police could have handled the situation better.

"In the big scheme of things," Norton said, "he hadn't broken any laws. He had done nothing illegal. He was in his house on his own property and they're dictating to him what he has to do. Because he wasn't doing it, they were getting frustrated."

The family sued, claiming the department was ill-prepared and did not have to kill Norton.

But like the attorney general, a judge determined that the police did not use excessive force when they shot Norton and did not violate his constitutional rights.

Pickus, the lawyer who employed Norton, said he believes Norton was a good person who would still be alive if a crisis team had been involved and there was better communication.

"Now it's too late," he said. "You can't pull the bullet back."

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