ROCKLAND, Maine — Tenants in the apartment complex where a 68-year-old man shot an intruder last summer said they should have the right to have guns to protect themselves.
“How else are you going to protect yourself?” Roy Daugherty said Wednesday at Park Place Apartments in Rockland.
His wife, Jessica Daugherty, was in agreement that tenants should be able to owns guns if they want.
“Yes, particularly someone like Harvey,” she said in reference to downstairs neighbor Harvey Lembo.
Lembo, who uses a wheelchair to get around, shot a man he said had broken into his apartment Aug. 31, 2015. The man, who was hit in the shoulder, survived and awaits trial on multiple charges. Lembo said he had just bought the 7 mm Russian-made revolver the day before to protect himself after being the victim of four prior break-ins at his apartment over the past six years in which his prescription medications were stolen.
A day after the shooting, however, Lembo received a letter from the property management company, Stanford Management of Portland, on behalf of the apartment complex owner, notifying Lembo that he couldn’t have a gun in the apartment or he would be evicted.
Days after the shooting, Russ Gagne, director of finance for Stanford Management, said the firearm prohibition was part of the house rules for living in the apartments to ensure the safety of all tenants.
Lembo, backed by gun rights advocates, filed a lawsuit against Park Place Associates, the apartment complex’s owner, as well as Stanford Management, claiming they violated his right to bear arms under the U.S. and Maine constitutions.
In response to the case, the Maine Legislature earlier this month approved and Gov. Paul LePage signed a bill to give tenants in apartments that are government subsidized the right to own a gun. The measure, which exempts an owner-occupied building of four or fewer units, becomes law 90 days after the Legislature adjourns, likely meaning it will take effect in July.
Jessica Daugherty said Wednesday she has thought about getting a small handgun. She said someone broke into their apartment one time and went through things but did not appear to have stolen anything.
The Daughertys said they have lived at Park Place for the past five years. There are 21 apartments in three adjacent buildings in the Rockland complex, according to city assessment records.
Since Lembo shot the alleged intruder last year, security improvements have been made at the facility, the Daughertys said. That includes cameras being installed and outside doors getting new locks.
Downstairs tenant Carl Tracy, who has lived in the apartment complex for 23 years, said he also believes tenants should have the right to have a gun if they want for their protection.
“People need to be able to protect themselves,” he said.
Tracy said people have tried to enter his ground floor apartment through windows, likely to steal his medications.
He said someone had broken into one elderly woman’s apartment last summer — shortly before the Lembo incident.
Tracy said if he caught someone breaking into his apartment he would “take them off at the knees.”
Alton Cobb, who was walking into the complex with his young son on Wednesday, said Lembo should have the right to own a gun.
“He’s an old man, there’s no reason he shouldn’t have a gun,” Cobb said.
He said anyone who is not otherwise prohibited by law from possessing a weapon should be able to arm himself, provided the individual acts responsibly with the gun.
A hearing was held Tuesday in Knox County Unified Court on a motion to dismiss Lembo’s lawsuit. Justice William Stokes gave attorneys a week to file written responses to a few issues and is expected to issue a ruling later.
Attorney William Harwood of Portland, who represents the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, told the court that the more guns there are, the more violence there will be. He also said the rights of other tenants to be safe should be weighed against Lembo’s right to have a gun.
The man shot by Lembo, 45-year-old Christopher Wildhaber, has pleaded not guilty to charges of burglary, theft of medication, attempted theft and three counts of refusing to submit to arrest. He has been held at the Knox County Jail in Rockland since his arrest.
Rockland police Sgt. Donald Finnegan said Tuesday that Lembo’s gun was confiscated as evidence in Wildhaber’s case and will be kept until that case concludes.