Salem man sentenced to prison for suicide-by-cop standoff
Larry Minassian wept and bowed his head as Judge Kenneth McHugh explained that despite the 53-year-old's efforts to seek help for his mental health issues, his actions on Jan. 6, 2011, had lasting impact on the Salem police officers forced to shoot him.
Minassian lost his left leg as a result of being shot by police.
"To only look at his personal loss would be unfair to society," McHugh said. "The fact he asks for mercy, if you will, because of his loss is not enough to prevent me from doing the job I have to do."
Minassian was convicted by a Rockingham County jury on Oct. 3 on charges of criminal threatening and reckless conduct for calling 911 and setting off the confrontation with police in his driveway. Officers tried to cajole Minassian into dropping his sword and a knife before he charged at police with the sword raised above his head.
Officer Michael White said in court that Minassian let out "an unforgettable war cry" as he charged them last January. "For those few seconds on that day as (he) was charging with that sword, I thought this was it," White said. "This was life or death."
About a dozen police officers responded to Minassian's home and several required weeks of counseling to deal with the experience. One detective went on permanent disability, according to Assistant County Attorney Ben LeDuc.
"Whether the public acknowledges it or not, every officer is trained to use deadly force, but no officer wants to use deadly force," LeDuc said.
White said he has had to deal with his own emotions in the wake of the police shooting, which the state Attorney General's Office deemed a justified use of deadly force.
"Some of the unseen consequences for me personally are that I've had to live with this angry type of feeling that another person tried to use me to end his life," White said.
LeDuc argued that Minassian should serve a two- to six-year sentence on the criminal threatening conviction and a suspended two- to four-year sentence for reckless conduct. The sentence would allow Minassian to receive a battery of mental health treatment that would continue months after his parole. LeDuc said such programs are available at the state prison, but not within the county jail system.
"On that day he planned to confront the officers and planned on getting shot. He planned on getting killed," LeDuc said.
Defense lawyer Richard Sheehan argued for his client to receive probation so he could continue treatment with the Center of Life Management. Sheehan said he believes that Minassian was not thinking clearly on the day of the shooting and his actions should be viewed as a cry for help.
"I don't think the community needs any message from the court other than we need to better deal with mental health issues out in the field," Sheehan said.
McHugh agreed that Minassian may have not made a conscious decision that day in light of his mental issues, but his actions still had a widespread impact.
Minassian, who was taken into custody after the hearing, recently completed a six-month jail term imposed earlier this year from a 2008 simple assault against a Salem police officer.
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James A. Kimble may be reached at JKimble@newstote.com.