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Claremont man to remain involuntarily committed as danger to others

  • Michael Burns walks into a Sullivan County Superior Court courtroom on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019 in Newport, N.H. Burns was being arraigned on additional charges from a standoff with police in Claremont this past summer. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — Jennifer Hauck

  • New Hampshire State Police Trooper Chris Martineau photographs Friday, August 16, 2019, outside the Claremont, N.H., apartment were Michael Burns allegedly fired numerous shots into his Centennial Street neighborhood during a standoff Thursday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/20/2021 9:12:17 PM
Modified: 9/20/2021 9:12:17 PM

NEWPORT, N.H. — A 57-year-old Claremont man will remain involuntarily committed, for now, as a danger to society after previously being found not competent to stand trial for barricading himself in his apartment and firing more than 100 rounds into his neighborhood two years ago.

Sullivan Superior Court Judge Brian Tucker issued a two-page order late Friday saying Michael E. Burns, remains a threat to others, based on a report by Tiffany Piascik, a forensic psychologist who evaluated him, including to see if he could be restored to competency. She concluded that he meets the criteria for dangerousness under state law, according to Tucker’s order.

“The defendant presented no evidence on the question of dangerousness,” Tucker wrote of a dangerousness hearing regarding Burns held in the Newport court last Wednesday. “Based on Dr. Piascik’s findings, I conclude the evidence is clear and convincing that the defendant is dangerous to himself and others.”

Under state law, a person is deemed to be a danger to others if they have recently “inflicted, attempted to inflict, or threatened to inflict serious bodily harm on another.”

They are deemed a danger to themselves if they have inflicted serious bodily injury on themselves or have attempted suicide or tried to injure themselves and are likely to do so again; or have threatened to do so; or have demonstrated that they can’t care for themselves and are likely to seriously injure themselves or try to do so.

Piascik’s evaluation was sealed, but at a competency hearing in March 2020 she testified that Burns was fixated on “delusional thoughts” during her sessions with him. She also said he has a history of mental illness and may be suffering from schizophrenia or a personality disorder.

Burns was arrested in August 2019 after he barricaded himself in an apartment on Centennial Street in Claremont for seven hours and fired more than 100 rounds. No one was struck by the bullets, but they did damage buildings, cars and trees.

He also had been charged in an incident three days earlier after a man who was sitting in his car on Sullivan Street said Burns biked up to him, threatened him, and then punched him several times.

In July, Burns was found not competent to stand trial — an affirmation of a prior finding in May 2020 — and his attorney, Lisa Wellman-Ally, then sought to have her client, who has been held at the New Hampshire Hospital, released, prompting the dangerousness hearing.

Sullivan County Attorney Marc Hathaway on Monday welcomed Tucker’s ruling that Burns remains a threat to others.

“Society has to rely upon the good judgment of the mental health professionals to keep society safe and when you understand the risk profile that is presented here, that’s a tremendous responsibility that society is giving to the New Hampshire Hospital,” Hathaway said.

A court would periodically review the involuntary commitment, but Hathaway also noted that under state law, Burns could also be released if the facility holding him makes an administrative finding that he could be treated in the community.

Wellman-Ally last week declined to comment, citing “ongoing court proceedings.”

Tucker’s ruling also dismissed the charges against Burns “without prejudice,” meaning prosecutors could renew them if he is later deemed restored to mental competency.

Burns also was arrested in Waterboro, Maine, in 2008, when he was charged with terrorizing, creating a police standoff and indecent conduct following a six-hour standoff with police, according to a report at the time from the Waterboro Reporter. That incident was never prosecuted.

John P. Gregg can be reached at 603-727-3217 or jgregg@vnews.com.




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