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October 21. 2012 8:30PM

Gilmanton man, wife suing police after 2011 SWAT standoff

GILMANTON — A man who allegedly barricaded himself in his home from a SWAT team for more than six hours is suing county law enforcement officers, claiming officers were reckless and negligent when they shot canisters of tear gas into his home, causing severe damage to the home.

The county and town are countersuing, claiming the man’s actions during the standoff caused the police —and ultimately taxpayers — to unnecessarily spend time and money.

Lee Morrill and his wife Mary Morrill are suing Belknap County, Belknap County Sheriff Craig Wiggin, and sheriff’s department Sgt. David Perkins for their actions on June 14, 2011 at the couple’s home at 809 Stage Road.

On that date, police were called to the couple’s home by Mary Morrill, who had sought and obtained an involuntary psychiatric admission order for her husband to a local health care facility.

Authorities arrived at the scene at 1 p.m., and were there until 7:30 p.m., when Morrill finally surrendered, according to court documents.

Police said they “peacefully” tried to take Lee Morrill into protective custody, but Morrill barricaded himself in his house, which prompted authorities to call in the county’s SWAT team.

County officials claim that Morrill “acknowledged that he was aware that Gilmanton and Belknap County law enforcement were trying to peacefully extract him from his barricaded house without incident, but that he continually refused to peacefully surrender until approximately 7:30 p.m.”

They claim Morrill has acknowledged that “he intentionally left his house during the law enforcement efforts in the afternoon and went into the nearby woods despite the fact that he knew (officers) were trying to extricate him from his house.”

The Morrills acknowledge that Mary Morrill had called police and was seeking her husband’s involuntary admittance. In their suit, they say a Gilmanton police officer saw Lee Morrill leave the house, and then lost sight of Morrill and never saw him return to the house.

Then, they say, their house was hit with tear gas unnecessarily.

“Effort was made to contact (Lee Morrill) in his home but he did not respond,” the Morrills claim in their suit. “Nonetheless, defendants Wiggin and Perkins ordered other law enforcement personnel to literally bombard the house with multiple canisters of (tear) gas and other noxious chemicals.”

The Morrills say police breached the owed “duty of care” owed to them by “failing to maintain a proper lookout, failing to ascertain whether (tear) gas was necessary, and deploying it in volumes in excess of what were reasonable under the circumstances,” according to court documents.

“As a proximate cause of the defendants’ breach of duty, the (Morrills’) home is now uninhabitable and possessions within the house were destroyed. The conduct of the (police) was both negligent and reckless, trained law enforcement personnel, were aware of the risks to person and property in using (tear) gas and ignored that risk.”

The Morrills are seeking financial restitution for the damage done to their home, court officials said.

In countersuing, the county is asking for “restitution for all damages, expenses, and costs incurred by Belknap County as a result of Mr. Morrill’s conduct and behavior on June 14, 2011.”

“Mr. Morrill breached his duty to voluntarily, peacefully, and timely surrender himself to Belknap County, for which Belknap County is entitled full and fair restitution as a result of Mr. Morrill’s negligent conduct.”

The countersuit notes that Belknap County “has a limited budget of public fund available for emergency law enforcement efforts.”

dseufert@newstote.com


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