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Judge: Newton police officers not ‘criminally responsible’ in 2021 shooting of resident

Michael Conlon, 28, was shot and killed by Newton police on Jan. 5, 2021. His family is calling for greater mental health and crisis training for police officers.Conlon family

Newton police were justified when they fatally shot a resident who charged a sergeant with a knife while suffering from a mental health crisis last year, according to a judge’s inquest report.

On Jan. 5, 2021, police shot Michael Conlon, 28, in the building he lived in at 18 Lincoln St. in Newton Highlands. The shooting occurred after officers responded to a 911 call from a candy store owner in the building who reported she was scared after Conlon entered her shop with a knife.

Newton District Court Judge Jeanmarie Carroll, in her inquest report, called Conlon’s death tragic but found that the police officers acted reasonably when they shot Conlon.

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“At that moment no reasonable alternative existed, except for the use of deadly force,” Carroll wrote in the report released Tuesday night.

Officers Richard Benes and Francis Scaltreto shot Conlon, who died after suffering multiple gunshot wounds, according to Carroll’s report.

They fired after Sergeant Glenn Chisholm’s beanbag shotgun malfunctioned, and Conlon came within inches of him with a knife, the report said.

“The court does not find that the actions of any of the Newton officers or supervisory responsibilities make them criminally responsible for the tragic death of Conlon,” Carroll wrote in the 15-page report.

The report, which was dated March 14, was released by Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan’s office.

An inquest is a judicial proceeding held to establish how a person died and the circumstances leading to the death. The proceedings, which are closed to the public, are held to determine if a crime has been committed.

The inquest began Dec. 6, 2021, and ended Jan. 27.

Ryan has adopted the findings of the inquest and a certificate of no prosecution has been filed, her office said in a statement.

Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller and Police Chief John Carmichael mourned the death of Conlon in a statement and offered support to his family and officers.

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Benes, Scaltreto, and Chisholm are on paid leave, according to the city.

“Our hearts go out to the Conlon family as well as to our officers and their families,” the statement said.

An attorney representing the Conlon family declined to comment Tuesday night. The Conlon family and their attorney attended the inquest, according to the report.

Family members of the person killed may attend an inquest with an attorney and ask questions, but the proceedings are not public.

According to Carroll’s report, on Jan. 5, 2021, the candy store’s owner was working alone and talking on the phone when Conlon entered around 1:45 p.m.

He appeared to be “rattled and unhinged” and repeatedly asked the woman to go upstairs with him. She told Conlon he was scaring her and refused, and called 911.

A pair of Newton police officers arrived on the scene and spotted Conlon, who still had the knife. They pursued him inside and ordered him repeatedly to drop the knife.

Police called for additional officers and a negotiator. A social worker from the Newton Police Department was also sent to the scene but did not enter the building, the report said.

Outside the building, Newton police Captain Christopher Marzilli and Captain Dennis Dowling agreed to “wait this out” since a negotiator had been requested. The two separately went up to the apartment and discussed next steps, the report said.

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Scaltreto appeared to be making progress in talking to Conlon, the report said. Minutes after Dowling left, Scaltreto yelled out repeatedly that Conlon had dropped the knife.

Marzilli radioed to Dowling, and Dowling gave the go-ahead to “take the shot” with the less-than-lethal weapons.

Chisholm, who was about a dozen feet from Conlon, stepped out of the apartment and aimed the gun at Conlon’s collar bone, but the weapon did not fire, the report said.

“Conlon grabbed the knife and ran at Chisholm,” the report said. “Officers repeatedly yelled, ‘drop the knife.’ "

Conlon held the knife up to shoulder level in his right hand and started to bring it down in “a stabbing motion” toward Chisholm.

“With the knife coming down just inches from Chisholm, Officers Scaltreto and Benes discharged their firearms and one of the troopers deployed his taser,” the report said.

Conlon fell in the hallway, and the knife was found at his side. Officers began to render aid as paramedics entered the building, the report said.

An autopsy conducted by the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner on Conlon’s body the following day determined he died from multiple gunshot wounds.

Benes’s firearm was matched to the fatal injuries sustained by Conlon, the report said.

The autopsy also detected several substances in his blood, including methamphetamine, the report said.

Carroll determined that Dowling’s decision to authorize officers to use the less-than-lethal shotgun “was objectively reasonable,” according to her report.

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When Benes and Scaltreto fired their weapons, she wrote that “any reasonable law enforcement officer in the same position would reasonably believe that he and his fellow officers as well as others, were in imminent danger of being seriously injured or killed.”


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.