GRINDSTONE, Maine — An apparently intoxicated man who nonsensically ordered his neighbors to leave their own home was killed during an armed confrontation Saturday with police, officials and witnesses said Sunday.
Robert Bellfleur, 78, who was armed with a shotgun, was shot by East Millinocket police Officer Seth Burnes after he responded to a neighbor’s 911 call at about 8:40 p.m. reporting that Bellfleur was harassing them, said Tim Feeley, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, which investigates all shootings involving police.
Three officers went to the scene — Deputy Patricia McLaughlin from the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department, part-time East Millinocket police Officer Brad Fitzgerald and Burnes, Brian MacMaster, head of investigation for the attorney general’s office, said Sunday.
They found an upset Bellfleur, Feeley said.
After police arrived, Bellfleur went to his own residence at the dead end of Frazier Road, about 400 feet from the neighbors, and “retrieved a shotgun and engaged in an armed confrontation with the officers,” Feeley said Sunday.
Bellfleur died at the scene, Feeley said.
An autopsy on Bellfleur’s body will occur Monday, a representative from the medical examiner’s office said.
The neighbor who called 911, Brian Badger, said the confrontation began when Bellfleur stumbled up the front steps to the Badger vacation home at dusk and ordered Badger and his wife to leave, even though Bellfleur didn’t own the place.
“Nothing he said made any sense,” said Brian Badger, 57, a Pennsylvania resident. “He was drunk, drunk, drunk.”
MacMaster said he could not confirm if alcohol was involved.
“We cannot comment on other details during the pendency of an investigation,” the investigator said. “[Questions] regarding Mr. Bellfleur’s sobriety or other demeanor or behavior … will all be covered in the final report when we have information that has been fully corroborated.”
Bellfleur, the Badgers said, was well known within the neighborhood for being disputatious, but Saturday’s confrontation was their first with them. Bellfleur always treated them well, occasionally stopping by to chat, they said.
“He was disenchanted with life, but he was never mean to us,” 54-year-old Marlene Badger said.
The Badgers had soothed Bellfleur during Saturday’s confrontation so much that Brian Badger telephoned Penobscot Regional Communications Center dispatchers to tell them to call off police, Badger said.
“He said, ‘I’m sorry. I just get crazy when I drink,’” Brian Badger said.
But the officers were already on their way, Badger said. A mercurial character when he drank, Bellfleur flared again when he saw McLaughlin, Fitzgerald and Burnes, who shined their lights at him, Brian Badger said.
Bellfleur had gone back to his house after having cussed out the officers, who told him to go home or face arrest, Badger said.
“As soon as [McLaughlin] said something about going home, he got really agitated,” Marlene Badger said.
The officers stood near the railroad tracks by the end of the Badgers’ long driveway, their cruisers parked behind Brian Badger’s pickup truck, to make sure that Bellfleur would comply with their order.
“He went [back to his house]. It took a little while, [and] we thought the whole confrontation was done because things got real quiet. Then all of a sudden we heard a shot,” she said.
The Badgers assume that Bellfleur fired the shot.
From inside their home, their view of Bellfleur’s house is blocked by a large shed, and in the pitch dark of the woods surrounding them, they probably could not have seen anything anyway, they said.
“We hear a shot and it’s like ‘Oh my God, we hope he didn’t hit anybody,’” Marlene Badger said.
The officers responded to the shot by moving their cruisers to shine their lights, including spotlights built into their vehicles, on Bellfleur’s house, Brian Badger said.
There was another lengthy pause. Then the Badgers heard three shots in quick succession. Police told them later that Bellfleur appeared in his doorway, with a long rifle in his hands, then he fell back through the doorway after the officers opened fire, Brian Badger said.
Several hours passed as police evacuated the neighborhood and called their armored vehicle to the scene before they were able to verify that Bellfleur was dead inside his home, Badger said.
The Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department special response team was dispatched at 9:38 p.m., according to the regional communications center’s law incident summary report. An East Millinocket Fire Department ambulance stopped traffic at the Frazier and Grindstone roads intersection well past midnight. State police cruisers and unmarked cars came to the scene until almost 2 a.m.
Frazier is an L-shaped dirt road off Grindstone Road that runs through thick woods to railroad tracks owned by Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway. The homes of Bellfleur and another resident lie across the tracks from the road.
Burnes, who has worked as an officer in Old Town and Orono, was likely placed on paid administrative leave until the investigation is completed, which is protocol. Feeley directed questions about Burnes to East Millinocket Police Chief Cameron McDunnah, who did not immediately return a message left on Sunday.
Brian Badger said he did not blame the officers for the shooting.
“You don’t act the way he did with the police,” he said.