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Manchester cops shot by mentally ill man sue gun shop that sold him a weapon

Union Leader Correspondent

August 08. 2018 3:32PM
Ian MacPherson 

Manchester police officers Matthew O’Connor, left, and Ryan Hardy arrive in court in May 2016 for a hearing for Ian MacPherson, who was charged with shooting them. (AP PHOTO/JIM COLE/POOL)

BRENTWOOD — Two Manchester police officers shot by a man with a history of mental illness have filed a lawsuit alleging that the New Hampshire Department of Safety and a Derry gun shop failed to do the proper background check to stop him from buying the gun used in the 2016 shooting.

In the three-count suit filed last week in Rockingham County Superior Court, Ryan Hardy and Matthew O’Connor accuse Safety Commissioner John Barthelmes, the Department of Safety, and Chester Arms LLC of negligence, claiming they’re responsible for the gunshot wounds they suffered on May 13, 2016, during an encounter with Ian MacPherson in Manchester.

The lawsuit, filed through Manchester attorney Mark D. Morrissette, recounts the separate shootings that left Hardy with wounds to his face, neck, and right shoulder blade. O’Connor was wounded in the leg.

MacPherson, 34, was a robbery suspect who shot the officers with a Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistol that he bought from Chester Arms, a federally licensed gun dealer in Derry, on April 1, 2016.

He was sentenced earlier this year to at least five years in the state prison’s secure psychiatric unit after pleading not guilty by reason of insanity to attempted murder charges.

While he admitted to shooting the officers, MacPherson wasn’t held criminally responsible because of his mental illness.

The suit claims that MacPherson shouldn’t have been able to buy the gun for several reasons, arguing he met the criteria under a federal law that prohibits people from purchasing or possessing a firearm if they’ve been found mentally defective, been involuntarily committed to a mental institution, been addicted to a depressant or other controlled substance, or been convicted of a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence.

According to the suit, the New Hampshire Department of Safety’s Gun Line division conducts background checks of customers of federally licensed gun dealers who purchase handguns.

The suit said the department and Gun Line received verbal and written information from Merrimack police detective Scott Park that MacPherson was disqualified from possessing or owning a firearm. The suit said the information was provided a week before Chester Arms sold the gun to MacPherson.

Park made it known that the Merrimack Police Department had an “overwhelming number of contacts” with MacPherson over the years and that the department was informed that he suffered from schizophrenia, the suit said.

In addition to notifying the state’s Gun Line division, the suit said Park drafted a “be on the lookout” safety bulletin on March 24, 2016, which was shared with Merrimack and Nashua police and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

“Detective Park made it clear in his communications with the Gun Line that Mr. MacPherson was diagnosed as a schizophrenic and that Mr. MacPherson has displayed, on many occasions, delusional behavior which would serve as a significant concern should he obtain a firearm,” the suit said.

In his bulletin, the suit said Park indicated that he had communicated with Gun Line and was informed that “they have no plans on authorizing any purchase of a firearm but that would certainly not prevent him from obtaining one privately. Use a great deal of caution should you have contact with him.”

MacPherson was denied when he first attempted to buy the handgun and 50 bullets from Chester Arms on March 19, 2016.

The suit said he hired a private car service to drive him to the Derry gun shop. The driver reported that his behavior was unusual as he was hitting the rear of the seat and was wearing a trench coat and latex gloves.

At one point, the suit said, two Derry police officers responded to the gun shop to investigate a report of a suspicious person. MacPherson, the suit said, was the only customer at the store.

After filling out the paperwork to make the purchase, employee Jennifer Cavaretta, whose father is the owner, was required to contact New Hampshire State Police to see if MacPherson could possess or own a firearm.

She was informed that MacPherson couldn’t purchase the firearm because additional research or review was required, the suit said. The sale was delayed until March 24, 2016.

The suit said Merrimack police disclosed the criminal and mental health history to the Department of Safety’s Gun Line on March 24, 2016, after an inquiry was made on the same day.

MacPherson was denied the sale, but returned on April 1, 2016, and spoke with owner John Cavaretta, the suit said.

“Mr. MacPherson was in the store for a very brief time, not longer than five minutes. John Cavaretta indicated that there had been no resolution with respect to the delay or hold placed on the sale by the New Hampshire State Police. John Cavaretta transferred the weapon and ammunition to Ian MacPherson,” the suit said.

The suit accuses the Department of Safety of failing to stop MacPherson from buying the gun and states that neither the department nor Gun Line made efforts to notify law enforcement authorities that a firearm had been transferred to MacPherson.

The suit argues that New Hampshire State Police “negligently and recklessly” carried out its duties and is responsible for the injuries suffered by Hardy and O’Connor. The suit also accuses Barthelmes of negligence and alleges he is also legally responsible for the injuries. The suit claims Chester Arms was negligent as well.

John Cavaretta said Tuesday that he has not yet seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on the allegations.

“I have to wait and see what it says,” he said.

Barthelmes did not immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.

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