December 15, 2019
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Judge dismisses Rockland man’s lawsuit against landlord over gun possession

ROCKLAND, Maine — A state judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the 68-year-old Rockland man who shot an alleged intruder and then was ordered to give up his gun by the landlord and property management company.

“Because the plaintiff has failed to allege any facts supporting his claim that the defendants interfered with the exercise of his constitutionally guaranteed rights by actual or threatened physical force or violence, damage or destruction of property or trespass on property, the plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted,” Justice William Stokes stated in a ruling released Thursday in Knox County Unified Court.

The lawsuit on behalf of tenant Harvey Lembo was filed last year against Park Place Associates and Stanford Management after the management company gave a written notice to Lembo that he could not have a gun in the apartment or he would be evicted. Gun rights advocates, including the National Rifle Association, have supported Lembo in the lawsuit.

Stokes held a hearing April 19 on a motion by Park Place and Stanford Management that sought to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that it did not meet the requirements of the Maine Civil Rights Act.

Lembo’s attorney argued in court that his client was a vulnerable person who had his apartment broken into multiple times and that he suffered emotional distress after being threatened with eviction.

Attorney William Harwood, who represents the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, said Thursday that he was very pleased with the ruling.

“We think Justice Stokes got it right. He correctly decided the issues,” Harwood said.

Lembo’s attorney, Patrick Strawbridge of Boston, said the ruling is being studied.

“We are studying the decision and have not yet made any decisions about next steps. We do have the right to appeal, and we will consider all of our options as we go forward. Further comment would be inappropriate at this time,” Strawbridge said.

The Maine Civil Rights Act requires that there be a threat of violence or physical force involved for that statute to apply, Stokes ruled.

All the management company did was send a notice that could have led to litigation, the attorneys for the defendants argued.

Lembo told the Bangor Daily News on Sept. 1, 2015, that he had purchased a 7 mm Russian-made revolver the day before he shot an intruder because he had been the victim of four previous burglaries in the six years he had lived in the apartment. In those instances, his medications and money had been taken.

Lembo said he was awoken on the night of Aug. 31, 2015, by a sound in his apartment and saw a shadow pass by his kitchen into the living room. Lembo said he took the gun, which he had under his pillow, and confronted the intruder, who was rifling through his medications.

Lembo said he ordered the man to sit down, which he did initially, but then the man got up and tried to flee. Lembo said he fired a shot, which struck the man in the shoulder.

Rockland police later found Christopher Wildhaber, 45, in nearby woods and had him treated for his wound before taking him to jail.

Wildhaber has been charged with 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.

Police confiscated Lembo’s gun as evidence in Wildhaber’s case, and it will be kept until that case concludes.

Wildhaber has pleaded not guilty. His attorney, William Pagnano, said one defense argument that may be raised is that Wildhaber was too intoxicated to realize he was in the wrong residence.

 



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