Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson plans to pursue charges against the owner of a Portland building where a fire in November killed six people, announcing her decision Thursday after the breakdown of plea negotiations between prosecutors and the landlord.

Anderson made the announcement through her spokeswoman, saying she didn’t know what Gregory Nisbet would be charged with or when it would happen.

The owner of the duplex at 20-24 Noyes St., where the fatal fire occurred on Nov. 1, Nisbet has been accused in lawsuits filed by victims’ families of offering individual rooms for rent at that building without making the life-safety upgrades that are required to protect tenants in a rooming house.

The Cumberland County grand jury is meeting this week, but Anderson’s spokeswoman wouldn’t say whether the case is being presented. The grand jury in Cumberland County typically rises on Fridays, and that is when its indictments are announced.

Anderson has been pushing for a manslaughter charge, but Nisbet’s attorney, Matthew Nichols, said his client refuses to agree to that. A person is guilty of manslaughter if he recklessly or with criminal negligence causes the death of another person. It is a class A crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Nichols, who has not returned telephone calls this week, has said that talks focused on specific city housing safety ordinances and whether negligently violating those ordinances rises to the level of manslaughter.

The cause of the Noyes Street fire was found to be accidental – a discarded cigarette ignited a fire on the front porch. However, fire investigators concluded that the house did not have functioning smoke detectors, let alone the more sophisticated fire alarm system that would be required of a rooming house.

Fire officials said the fire started on the porch and quickly engulfed the front door. A rear staircase was blocked, forcing the three survivors to jump from second-story windows.

The fire killed Steven Summers, 29, of Rockland, Maelisha Jackson, 26, of Topsham, and Chris Conlee, 25, of Portland, who were visiting the house, and David Bragdon Jr., 27, Ashley Thomas, 29, and Nicole Finlay, 26, who were residents.

The fire focused attention on lax inspection requirements for apartments in Portland and ultimately led to calls for increased inspections. City firefighters had only been conducting proactive inspections of businesses and apartment buildings containing three or more units. However, nearly half of the city’s rental units are two-family homes like the one at 20-24 Noyes St.

City officials convened a housing safety task force, which recommended that the city create an office specifically to oversee rental units.

Portland city councilors voted Monday night to create a housing safety office that will be responsible for inspecting thousands of rental housing units in the city.

The office will employ a top manager, three street-level inspectors and an administrative assistant, and will be charged with enforcing housing codes and addressing unsafe living conditions for Portland’s renters.

Every Portland landlord also will be required to register with the city and pay a $35-per-unit fee, or face a fine of $100 per day.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.