SEABROOK — During a meeting packed with residents of Stable Mobile Home Park, police Chief Lee Bitomske spoke publicly yesterday about a police incident that happened there recently and the controversy stemming from it.
Bitomske said his mission for the meeting was to get the residents’ input and put their fears to rest as it relates to his decisions in handling a Nov. 4 incident involved a standoff with 46-year-old David Nassor, a resident of the park, and convicted felon who was acting violently while in possession of a loaded gun.
He brought with him Nassor’s pastor, J.D. Minerella, from Healing Rain Ministry, the man who helped Nassor make the decision to surrender the next morning. Minerella, who has been Nassor’s spiritual counselor for the three years since he was released from prison, spoke of a troubled man who was working on reforming his life, and who Minerella believes would not harm others.
From the comments made by some of the scores of residents from the 55-and-older mobile community, Bitomske achieved his goal. Many thanked him for reaching out to them to explain the situation. Others agreed with the actions Bitomske took, which have been criticized, that led to Nassor’s surrender without any injuries.
But there were others who told Bitomske that, in a volatile incident like that, with a man who was clearly extremely upset, there were risks in the action he took of pulling police away before removing a suspect with easy access to a gun.
“He could have snapped,” one resident told Bitomske. “Anything could have happened.”
Bitomske nodded, in agreement.
The incident in question relates to a standoff that began at about 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 4 when police responded to the call by Nassor’s father reporting that his son was making suicidal threats. According to the department’s report on the incident, Nassor, a convicted felon, was agitated due to a loss of money while gambling. He had armed himself with his father’s pistol and had waved the gun as his father tried to calm him.
Controversy has raged because, although Bitomske first called in the Seacoast Emergency Response Team to handle the standoff, he later dismissed SERT and pulled most of his officers away after Nassor made threats about doing himself harm if police continued to pursue him.
Nassor finally surrendered the next morning, but he remained in his home all night acting violently smashing things, while armed with a loaded gun in the closely settled mobile home park without police presence. Convicted felons are prohibited by law from owning or using guns, and Nassor was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, a felony level crime, as well as criminal mischief, for the destruction within the home, and reckless conduct, for waving the gun in front of his father, according to police.
He was arraigned and ordered held by the judge on $250,000 cash bail.
Although Bitomske strongly believes the situation ended peacefully with Nassor’s surrender with “no one getting hurt” due to his correct decision to pull police away, in a scathing letter the Seabrook Police Association strongly disagreed, calling for him to be relieved of command.
The union claims police and residents were placed in danger because officers were removed from the scene leaving Nassor alone in the house and in possession of a loaded weapon, while still on a “rampage.” Listening through Bitomske’s and Minerella’s comments yesterday, Steve Arnold, who represents the town’s police union, said he stands by the five-page letter that calls for Bitomske’s dismissal.
But in an interview after the meeting, Bitomske said, his recollections of what happened on Nov. 4 differ from those delineated in the union’s letter. For starters, Bitomske said, he never saw Nassor with a gun in his hand, and to the best of his knowledge, neither did members of SERT, nor did negotiators hear him say he was going to shoot himself or anyone else.
“It was his father who was the one who told us his son had the gun and had placed it to his head, as if to threaten suicide,” Bitomske said. “We remained in contact with the father. He was at the command post and he was a good asset as the night wore on.”
In the beginning, Bitomske feared it would end up as a “suicide by cop” situation, but thankfully it didn’t turn out to be the case, he said. Over time, as the situation unfolded, he and the SERT leaders believed that only if police got heavy handed, perhaps storming the house, could there be a violent end.
“(Nassor) said if anybody came in, he’d threaten to hurt himself,” Bitomske said. “It was our (police) presence that could escalate the situation. SERT had exhausted their attempts at negotiations. That’s why we decided to pull back.”
He said police officers were left to monitor the situation, but he was unsure yesterday as to if or when those monitoring officers left the area. Bitomske said he’s still researching every aspect of the incident in his report for town officials.
Bitomske said, knowing everything he knows now, he’d make the same decision, for he believes it was the right one.
“I’m the police chief and I stand by my decision and take full responsibility for my actions,” Bitomske said. “I give credit to the Seabrook officers who were there and the professional way they conducted themselves that night. And I thank SERT for their efforts.”
He clearly disagrees with the union’s belief that he put officers and park residents in danger by leaving the scene and pulling police away before local or SERT officers were able to get to Nassor and remove the loaded firearm. And he refutes the claim by the union that he didn’t respond to his men’s calls. He may have missed radio calls when he was elsewhere, he said, but he never purposely failed to respond to his men’s questions.
As for the problems between he and the union that have led to this call for him to go, and a prior vote of no confidence in the chief, Bitomske says it is “unfortunate.” No chief likes to hear of such things, he said.
When asked what’s ahead for him in light of the problems that appear to be in the department, Bitomske envisions remaining where he is.
“I’ll continue as chief of police in Seabrook despite everything that’s going on right now,” Bitomske said. “And I hope to rectify the issues that are causing concern within the police department.”