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Parents of man killed by Newton police file federal lawsuit

The parents of a 28-year-old Newton man shot and killed by Newton police in 2021 argued that a group of officers at the scene “unlawfully used excessive deadly force” against their son, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court earlier this month.

Michael ConlonConlon family

Michael Conlon was killed by police while suffering from a mental health crisis on the afternoon of Jan. 5, 2021, in Newton Highlands, according to an inquest report on the shooting. He was shot while charging a police sergeant with a knife.

Robert and Betsy Conlon argued in their lawsuit that their son is dead because police “refused to employ” any methods of de-escalation. The shooting violated their son’s rights under the Fourth and 14th amendments of the US Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and state law, the suit said.

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The Conlons’ civil suit seeks punitive damages and attorney’s fees, according to the complaint.

The suit names Newton police officers Francis Scaltreto and Richard Benes, Sergeant Glenn Chisholm, and captains Dennis Dowling and Christopher Marzilli as defendants, along with the city of Newton.

“The Defendants acted recklessly and unlawfully in a situation that did not require any extraordinary acts of physical heroism, bravado, or self-sacrifice, but merely competence and the lawful discharge of their duties under the laws of the United States and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” the lawsuit said.

In a statement, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller defended the officers at the scene as “fine members of the department” who are professional and compassionate.

In an inquest report released by a Newton District Court judge last year, police responded to the scene after Conlon entered a local candy shop while carrying a knife, causing the owner to call 911.

During the subsequent encounter with police, Marzilli radioed to Dowling that Conlon had put down the knife.

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Dowling gave the order to “take the shot” with less-than-lethal weapons. Chisholm then attempted to shoot Conlon with a beanbag shotgun.

When that non-lethal weapon malfunctioned, Conlon grabbed the knife and charged Chisholm. After officers repeatedly yelled at Conlon to drop the knife, Scaltreto and Benes shot Conlon with their service weapons, the inquest report said.

Judge Jeanmarie Carroll, in her report, wrote that “no reasonable alternative existed, except for the use of deadly force.”

In the Conlons’ lawsuit, they argued that their son struggled with mental illness from a young age, and was eventually diagnosed with major depression, bipolar disorder, and schizoaffective disorder.

His symptoms included delusions, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and irrational fears. Conlon’s delusions made him fear the police, according to the Conlons’ lawsuit.

The Conlons argued that at the time of the shooting, Newton police had no specific policy related to de-escalation techniques for responding to a person experiencing a mental health crisis.

The city’s “failure to train its officers introduced a high degree of risk that its officers would create dangerous and fatal encounters with mentally ill persons,” they said.


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