A Jan. 20 fight at an Ellsworth hospital was precipitated by an incident in which a Norridgewock man crawled halfway out of a moving vehicle and pointed something at a car behind him that the other driver thought was a rifle, according to court documents.
The man and his two brothers then stopped their vehicle on East Main Street and ran away from responding police to Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital, where a few minutes later they were confronted by Ellsworth police officers in their grandmother’s room. In the ensuing brawl, each man was shot twice with stun guns, and hospital furniture was broken before the three men were subdued and arrested, according to a probable cause police report filed in Hancock County Unified Criminal Court.
Their grandmother, Betty M. Grant, 80, of Columbia, died two days later at the Ellsworth hospital, hours before her grandsons were bailed out of Hancock County Jail, according to her husband, Roger Grant, and her daughter, Heidi Grant.
“She was ill for quite some time,” Roger Grant, 81, said Friday. “I’ve never seen a police matter handled less professionally.”
Capt. Troy Bires of the Ellsworth Police Department said Wednesday that it was Brighton Sawyer, 21, of Norridgewock who made the threatening gesture to the car behind him as he and his brothers were on their way to the hospital to visit their grandmother. Also in the sport-utility vehicle with Brighton Sawyer were his brothers Dirk Sawyer, 22, of Columbia and Byron Grant, 35, of Harrington.
According to the police report, Brighton Sawyer was riding in the passenger seat of a SUV that afternoon when he “rolled down the window and sat on the door outside of the moving vehicle and made the motion of leveling a rifle off” at the vehicle behind him. A woman riding in the second car screamed and ducked down, thinking she was about to be shot, while the driver of the second car slammed on the brakes. The driver then called the police.
Local officers responded and stopped the brothers’ SUV at the corner of Fletcher and East Main streets. The uniformed officers, with lights flashing on their cruisers, ordered the men to the ground as the brothers got out of the SUV.
“The three males refused and took off down Fletcher Street and into the wood line,” Ellsworth police Sgt. Chad Wilmot wrote in the report. “One of them made reference to going to the hospital. Dispatch notified the hospital to go into lockdown. One of the males advised he would come back and kill the officers if his grandmother died.”
According to Heidi Grant, mother of the three men, she was at the hospital and let them in the locked door, not knowing she wasn’t supposed to let them in. She said her sons had called her telling her they were being chased by police and were afraid of being shot.
Police pursued the men to their grandmother’s hospital room and again ordered them to get down on the floor. They refused, at which point police fired their Tasers, according to the police report. The officers then tried to wrestle the three men to the ground, with Wilmot and Brighton Sawyer exchanging blows.
“Byron Grant assisted Brighton and Sgt. Wilmot was taken to the ground,” police wrote in the report. “Brighton was able to get Sgt. Wilmot in a choke hold and Byron was across Sgt. Wilmot’s legs. Officer [Steven] Mahon used his Taser as an impact weapon and struck Brighton several times in the head to get him to release his hold on Sgt. Wilmot. Officer [Toni] Ryan was also striking Byron to get him off. Brighton complied and was handcuffed.”
Grant and Dirk Sawyer also were subdued, after Dirk Sawyer tried to shut the hospital door on two hospital employees who were trying to assist police, according to the report. Racks for holding medical supplies were knocked off the wall and a reclining chair was broken during the incident.
The stun gun that Officer Mahon used to strike Brighton Sawyer on the head “was rendered inoperable” as a result of the melee, police said. None of the police officers were injured.
Each the three brothers is facing a felony charge of burglary, and misdemeanor charges of terrorizing, disorderly conduct, refusing to submit to arrest, assault, failure to stop for a law enforcement officer and criminal mischief.
Bires said the reason police pursued the brothers and took them into custody was because they believed, based on information they had received, that at least one of them had threatened someone with a gun and was still armed.
“The call came in as ‘they were pointing a gun at us,’” Bires said. It wasn’t until later, after the brothers had been arrested and the SUV had been searched, that police failed to find a firearm, he said. Bires said police did not find anything resembling a rifle and are not sure what Brighton Sawyer may have pointed at the other vehicle.
Police did find 50-milliliter “nip” bottles on Dirk Sawyer and on Grant, according to the report. Grant had a nip of Fireball “that just had a small amount in the bottle” while Sawyer had an unopened nip bottle of Smirnoff vodka.
Bires said the people who reported the threat said the SUV the brothers were riding in was weaving around the road, but he said the brothers were too combative to take blood-alcohol tests. Plus, he added, each man already was facing several charges as a result of the foot chase and ensuing fistfight.
Bires said each officer fired his or her Taser twice in the hospital room because the brothers were wearing heavy winter clothing. The fired electrodes have to make contact with someone’s skin in order to stun them, Bires said, and police are not sure that the electrodes penetrated the brothers’ thick coats.
“It basically made the Tasers ineffective,” Bires said.
Efforts to interview the brothers about the incident have been unsuccessful.
Grant and Dirk Sawyer said separately Friday that they have been advised by their defense attorneys not to talk to reporters. A call placed Friday to Brighton Sawyer’s cell phone went unanswered.
The three men, whose bail conditions prohibit them from contacting the hospital or each other, are due to appear in court in Ellsworth on March 21 for a dispositional conference.