Trooper on brink of firing at suspect

Posted Feb. 17, 2010, at 10:40 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A Maine State Police trooper was seconds away from shooting a suspect Tuesday when the man slipped out the second-floor window of his Broadway apartment and hid in the basement before surrendering, court documents revealed.

Maine State Trooper Michael Johnston described the confrontation with Christopher Norris, 27, of Bangor as the most fearful of his career. Johnston’s version of Norris’ arrest on outstanding warrants and three additional charges read like a scene from TV show “Law and Order” rather than routine reports usually filed at the Penobscot Judicial Center.

“In my mind, I was fearful that Christopher had a gun and would shoot me,” the trooper wrote. “In my eight years of law enforcement experience, I was as fearful and threatened by Christopher’s actions [as] anytime before in my career.”

The confrontation in Norris’ apartment began as a routine traffic stop about 9:25 a.m. when Johnston, who was parked on the shoulder of Interstate 95 between Exits 186 and 185, saw a blue 1990 Toyota Corolla pass him with an expired registration decal on the license plate, according to the trooper’s affidavit.

He stopped the vehicle on Broadway and had the driver, a 56-year-old Bucksport woman, pull into the St. Joseph Hospital parking lot. In his affidavit, Johnston described Norris as having a “dazed, droopy almost sluggish look about him.” Norris did not seem to know his address and first said he lived at 103, then at 169 Garland St.

When Johnston returned to his cruiser to run background checks on the two, Norris ran from the car across Broadway, according to the affidavit. Johnson ran after him, yelling for him to stop.

Norris went in a side door to 351 Broadway, but because he had told the trooper he lived on Garland Street, Johnston believed Norris had entered the house illegally, the affidavit states. Norris locked the door behind him, but the trooper kicked it in and followed the suspect up the stairs to the second floor of an apartment.

“I still was yelling for him to wait and stop and followed [him] up the stairs and observed Christopher enter a room off the hallway,” Johnston wrote. “I kicked the door open and observed Christopher standing in the doorway by a window. Christopher was facing me in a bladed position so that his right shoulder was facing me and his left hand was concealed behind his back.

“Christopher told me to stop and that he had a gun,” the trooper continued. “Christopher then stepped towards me. I was approximately seven to eight feet from Christopher in a small room. I backed out of the room into the hallway and partially shielded myself with the wall by the entrance for cover. I already had my firearm drawn before I entered the bedroom; however, with this new threat I was pointing it directly at Christopher.

“I yelled at Christopher to let me see his hands or I would shoot,” Norris wrote. “Christopher remained where he was. I told Christopher on five separate occasions to let me see his hands. I told him that he did not want to do this and he said, ‘Yes, I do.’ Christopher started to take another step towards me and I told him to stop. In my mind he had a gun and would shoot me.”

At that point, Norris backed away from Johnston toward a window. He reached back with his left hand and began pushing up the window, according to the affidavit. Once the window was open, Norris turned around to go out of it headfirst.

“As Christopher turned I did not see a firearm in his hands or in his waist,” the trooper wrote. “As he went to exit the window, I grabbed onto his collar and attempted to pull him in; however, at this point he was more than halfway out the window. Christopher then jumped out the second story window onto the driveway below.”

A neighbor, whose apartment shares a common wall with Norris’, informed police that he had seen Norris go into the basement of the apartment building. Norris was located in the basement curled up under the stairs, according to Johnston. No weapon was found on Norris, and he later told the trooper he never had a gun.

After his arrest Tuesday, Norris was taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center, where he was treated for a sprained leg he apparently suffered when he jumped from the second-floor window. He was taken to the Penobscot County Jail, where he remained Wednesday night unable to make bail.

District Court Judge Jessie Gunther set bail at $800 cash or $8,000 surety on the new charges — criminal threatening, refusing to submit to arrest and violation of conditions of release — filed against Norris after his flight Tuesday.

Gunther set an additional bail of $260 cash on the outstanding warrants stemming from an automobile accident New Year’s Eve on Stillwater Avenue in Bangor. Norris also fled that scene. Those outstanding charges are two counts of criminal mischief, driving to endanger, operating while license suspended or revoked.

The driver of the Toyota was allowed to leave the scene Tuesday. Information about whether she was issued tickets for an expired registration and expired inspection sticker was not available Wednesday night.

Norris’ next court date on the charges filed Tuesday is April 16.