Police allege a man arrested in Keene Monday after failing to respond to police for hours fired a handgun in the direction of two people early that morning. The incident drew a large law enforcement response, with parts of Park Avenue and West Street closed for most of the morning.
Justin C. Cole, 25, is charged with three counts of reckless conduct with a deadly weapon and one count of felon in possession of a deadly weapon, all felonies.
He was arraigned Tuesday in Cheshire County Superior Court, where he pleaded not guilty to the charges. A judge set his bail at $25,000.
Shortly before 3 a.m. Monday, police responded to a home at 10 Park Ave. for a report of a fight and gunshots, according to a news release from the Keene Police Department. Keene police Lt. Steven Tenney said Cole remained in the house after police asked him to leave. Cole did not respond to further police communications, according to the release.
Around noon, police shot several canisters of powdered pepper spray into the house. Cole exited and was arrested shortly thereafter.
The Park Avenue residence is one of two home addresses given for Cole in court documents. The other is in Winchester.
As of Tuesday afternoon, no charges had been filed in connection with Cole’s failure to leave the house. But an affidavit filed Tuesday in court describes the alleged circumstances that led to Monday’s police response.
In the affidavit, Keene police Detective Jennifer M. Truman wrote that she interviewed two witnesses, Keene residents Robert Craig and Paightlin Bergeron, who said Cole fired a gun in their direction early Monday morning.
Craig told Truman that on Sunday night, he went to a bar in downtown Keene, where he ran into Cole and another man, Nathan Palmer. Craig said that around closing time, Palmer invited Craig to the 10 Park Ave. home where he lived, according to the affidavit.
In Craig’s account, according to the affidavit, he and Cole got into an argument at the house, during which Cole twice aimed a handgun at Craig.
In addition, Craig said a police officer came to the door at some point during the night due to a noise complaint, according to the affidavit. Craig said he opened the door, with Cole standing directly behind and pressing a gun against him. Craig told police that Cole slammed the door and said, “We ain’t talking to no cops,” according to the affidavit.
Keene police responded to a noise complaint on Park Avenue on Monday at 1:41 a.m., according to the department’s press log.
Craig called Bergeron, his girlfriend, who arrived at the house to help him, he told police.
Craig said that as he and Bergeron left the house, Cole grabbed Craig’s jacket, pulling it off, according to the affidavit. Craig had about $820 in rent money in a jacket pocket, he told police.
When he and Bergeron asked for the jacket back, Cole fired two shots in their direction, Craig said, according to the affidavit. Cole fired a third shot as they walked away, Craig told Truman.
Truman also interviewed Bergeron, whose description of the incident was similar, according to the affidavit. Bergeron told Truman the two of them had been 3 to 6 feet away from Cole when he fired the first shots. “Both Craig and Bergeron believed Cole was trying to shoot them and both are unsure how he missed given the close proximity,” Truman wrote.
In court Tuesday, Assistant County Attorney Kathleen O’Reilly said police had not recovered a gun from 10 Park Ave. She said they had yet to search the whole residence, though, due to the lingering pepper spray in some rooms.
Cole’s attorney, Benjamin Schiffelbein, disputed the characterization of Monday’s incident as a standoff. “What we have is the police surrounding a house and making a few attempts to contact Mr. Cole,” he said.
Cole, he said, had been sleeping and unaware of the police presence. Schiffelbein, of the N.H. Public Defender’s office, said a cousin of Cole’s tried calling him 70 times before he picked up and said he’d been sleeping. Shortly after, police deployed the pepper spray, Schiffelbein said.
Schiffelbein also cast doubt on witness statements he said were inconsistent, citing interviews Palmer had given to media in which he said he heard no gunshots.
Presiding over the courtroom by video conference, Judge Mark E. Howard of Strafford County Superior Court — taking the place of Judge David W. Ruoff, who is out this week — indicated he found Cole’s account suspect.
“It’s not particularly credible that Mr. Cole was unaware that police were outside for nine or 10 hours,” Howard said.
Cole is being held at the Cheshire County jail.
Cole was previously arrested on a felony charge of criminal threatening in 2011, according to court documents. A witness told police that Cole had lifted his shirt, revealing what looked like a pistol sticking out of his waistband, and threatened to shoot the other man in the head. In court filings, Cole’s lawyer questioned the witness’ reliability, though Cole ultimately pleaded guilty to the charge. That conviction is cited in the newly filed felon in possession charge.