Claremont standoff suspect’s competency in question

  • Michael Burns (Claremont police photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/20/2019 9:56:02 PM
Modified: 8/20/2019 10:07:25 PM

NEWPORT — A 55-year-old Claremont man who engaged police in a daylong standoff while firing “hundreds” of rounds from his Hanover Street apartment last week will be evaluated to determine if he is competent to stand trial.

Defense attorney Jay Buckey, who represented Michael Burns at his arraignment last week on four felony counts of reckless conduct with a deadly weapon, raised the topic of Burns’ competency at the hearing, and public defender Tony Hutchins has since filed a formal motion to have a mental health professional evaluate Burns.

“Based on Attorney Buckey’s personal interactions with Mr. Burns, which were relayed to Attorney Hutchins, as well as some information received in discovery to date, there is question as to competency to proceed,” the motion dated Friday says.

Sullivan County Attorney Marc Hathaway assented to the filing of the motion, the document indicates.

Burns, who currently is being held without bail, also faces charges of simple assault and criminal threatening tied to a fight on Sullivan Street a few days before the standoff. He has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

Police say Burns started firing shots from his apartment as early as 5:20 a.m. Thursday, and, after police negotiated with him for hours, was taken into custody by 2:30 p.m. Officers had deployed “chemical munitions” into the residence from an armored vehicle, and Burns ultimately exited and was arrested, according to a police affidavit.

Officers later found an “SKS-style rifle, shell casings that matched that type of weapon (and) a revolver” in Burns’ apartment, according to court documents. Burns’ criminal record includes a past conviction of aggravated operating while under the influence in Massachusetts, meaning he was prohibited by federal law from owning a firearm, Hathaway said at Burns’ arraignment.

The standoff with police in Claremont, which prompted lockdowns and evacuations throughout the city, wasn’t the man’s first such confrontation with police.

Burns was arrested on a terrorizing charge, as well as creating a police standoff and indecent conduct, following a six-hour standoff with police in Waterboro, Maine, in May 2008, according to a report at the time from the Waterboro Reporter. It isn’t yet clear how that case was adjudicated, but Hathaway has said it stopped short of a full prosecution.

The standoff in Claremont came three days after city police responded to a fight they say involved Burns.

Police say Burns rode his bicycle up to a car parked on Sullivan Street on Aug. 12, came to the window and said, “I’m going to kill you,” before punching the driver, identified as Timothy Melendy, several times.

Burns will undergo a “pre-trial examination” by a qualified psychiatrist or psychologist within the next 90 days, the motion to evaluate competency says.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews .com or 603-727-3248.

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