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Man shot, killed by Newton police had attacked them with knife: Middlesex DA says

A stretcher is brought to a store on Lincoln Street where a man was shot in Newton on Tuesday.
A stretcher is brought to a store on Lincoln Street where a man was shot in Newton on Tuesday.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

NEWTON — Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan said Wednesday that police fatally shot a Newton man a day earlier after he had attacked officers with a knife and a fire extinguisher, and shortly after he had threatened the owner of a candy store.

Authorities released a 911 call in which the store owner pleaded with the man, “Why are you trying to scare me,” before he left her business and police arrived. Meanwhile, neighbors who knew the 28-year-old man told the Globe that he had emotional troubles, and questioned whether authorities could have done more to deescalate the situation.

911 call from the Newton Highlands shooting
The 911 call from the owner of “Indulge!” was released following the fatal police shooting of a Newton man.

Michael Conlon, 28, was shot just after 2 p.m. Tuesday inside an apartment on the third floor of a building on Lincoln Street, according to Ryan’s office.

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Amid negotiations, officers fired a nonlethal beanbag at Conlon, and struck him with a Taser, authorities said. Conlon then approached officers with a knife and fire extinguisher, and they responded with gunfire, according to Ryan. Conlon was taken to Newton Wellesley Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Police said the incident began when Conlon entered the Indulge! candy store, which is located below his apartment on a small but vibrant Newton Highlands shopping strip. Conlon had a knife and pleaded with the owner to escort him to the third floor, and help him confront a neighbor, authorities said. The owner, Linda Gulman, called 911 and pretended she was on the phone with UPS. The 911 dispatcher interpreted the incident as an active robbery, Ryan’s office said.

“Can you please put the knife away,” Gulman can be heard pleading with him on the 911 call. “I know you’re a nice kid. I can’t leave my store. Please tell me what’s going on.”

Conlon implored Gulman to follow him. “I’m not going to hurt you, I promise,” he said. “I wanted to get you to come … I need you right now.”

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“I will only murder if someone hurts my family. That is the only time I will murder. But I will go ape [expletive] if I am not put in contact with the right people,” he says. “Please come with me and talk to my neighbor.”

Gulman can be heard coaxing the man to leave, before telling the 911 dispatcher that police officer had arrived and Conlon ran upstairs toward his apartment.

“They’re here, they’re here, they’re here,” she said, a sigh of relief.

Ryan’s office provided the following account of what occurred next: Two Newton police officers — one in plainclothes and one in uniform — followed Conlon to the second floor of the building, where his apartment is located. He allegedly flashed the knife in the hallway.

Additional officers were called, as well as a crisis negotiator. A mental health clinician arrived on the scene, but did not enter the building due to safety concerns, authorities said.

Conlon then allegedly fled to the third floor, where there are two other apartments. The officers, joined by two State Police troopers, followed. A woman inside one of the apartments allowed officers to use her apartment and interact with Conlon from a distance, Ryan said.

Conlon refused to drop the knife, and grabbed a fire extinguisher, according to Ryan.

Newton police fired a beanbag via a shotgun, and a State Police trooper used a Taser on the man, officials said.

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“Both of those uses of nonlethal force were unsuccessful in subduing the suspect,” Ryan said.

She said that Conlon then advanced with the knife, and that two Newton police officers fired their service weapons.

Their names and the number of shots they fired, the number of times the man was struck by gunfire, and where the bullets hit him were not immediately disclosed by officials. Ryan said the incident is under investigation.

Newton police officers are not required to wear body cameras. State Police have not fully implemented a body camera program, and none of the troopers at the scene was wearing a camera.

The incident caused alarm in Newton, where community activists have been pushing for police reforms, including how officers respond to calls in which mental illness is a factor.

Frank Ferrera, 56, who owns Angelo’s barbershop on Lincoln Street, said he used to cut Conlon’s hair. He said he saw the commotion leading up to the shooting, and watched Conlon flee through the doorway of the building across the street. He saw one officer, then another, follow him up through the doorway.

Not long after, he saw Conlon taken out on a stretcher.

Ferrera said Conlon was a big, genial guy — more than 6 feet tall, and about 280 pounds — who talked of a mother and a brother.

“He was a nice guy, but he had issues,” Ferrera said. “He was a son. He was a brother. No one deserved to be killed like that.”

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One of Ferrara’s clients on Wednesday, Jack Porter, a Harvard University sociologist, questioned why authorities hadn’t waited for a trained mental health expert to engage Conlon. “They should have negotiated, they should have cooled it,” said Porter, who wasn’t near the shooting a day earlier.

Later Wednesday, the Defund NPD group that has been calling for police reforms held a brief rally at a small park next to Newton police headquarters, decrying the incident and calling for broad policing changes. Hundreds of protesters, including several counterprotesters, gathered. There were several verbal exchanges and insults exchanged by people on both sides, some with bullhorns and sirens.

Rally held against Newton police violence
A rally was held on Wednesday protesting Newton police violence in response to a man being fatally shot in Newton Highlands on Tuesday. (Shelby Lum/Globe Staff)

Defund NPD said in a statement that the shooting illustrated the need for reforms, and called for an independent investigation.

“Our neighbor’s death is an example of how an overreliance on policing exacerbates harm. With full funding for mental health care, we could have lessened the likelihood of this mental health crisis happening in the first place,” the group said.

John R. Ellement of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.


Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia. John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.