SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

December 23, 2008

DA: Police justified in fatal shooting

PEABODY — Phillip Noto Sr. grew agitated when police officers told him they had to arrest him. He sat down on his bed, reached down and took out what appeared to be a handgun.

Standing, Noto dared officers to kill him, according to a report released yesterday by Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett. The report, which details the DA's investigation into the Sept. 15 shooting, clears the four officers involved of wrongdoing in Noto's death.

"Well (expletive) it, just kill me," Noto said, according to the report.

At seeing Noto with a gun pointed at them, Patrolman Steven Molk lunged at Noto to disarm him. Patrolman Richard Cochran took out his gun and ordered Noto to put his weapon down, the report said.

When Noto failed to drop his gun, Cochran shot him once in the stomach. Noto died four days later from complications of the gunshot wound. The gun has since been identified as a .22 caliber starter pistol, a firearm that shoots only blank rounds.

Blodgett said the officers' actions were justified to protect themselves and innocent bystanders, namely Noto's family.

"It's my opinion that the actions taken by officers that day were lawful," the district attorney said.

In a letter to police Chief Robert Champagne, Blodgett said he planned no further action and called the matter concluded.

The nine-page report by state police Lt. Norman Zuk and affirmed by Blodgett comes more than three months after the shooting.

Blodgett said the lag to release Zuk's findings was the result of the lieutenant's court obligations.

"This was more an anomaly than a practice," he said.

Blodgett assigns Zuk and about four other "seasoned" state police officers in his office to such investigations.

The DA said his office had investigated at least two other police shootings — both in Lynn — this year. He could not be sure yesterday how much time had elapsed between those shootings and their reports.

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