PORTLAND — Accept a plea agreement, or possibly face prosecution.
Those are the choices facing landlord Gregory Nisbet, Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson said Monday.
“We feel he is at least partially responsible for the deaths of those six young people,” Anderson said of the Nov. 1, 2014, fire in Nisbet’s apartment house at 20-24 Noyes St.
Anderson said she and Assistant District Attorney Robert Ellis, along with state Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese have been investigating evidence and a report from the state fire marshal’s office, and could seek manslaughter charges from a Cumberland County grand jury.
Nisbet’s attorney, Matt Nichols, said Tuesday he continues to meet with Anderson and Marchese and Fire Marshal Danny Young while investigating how sections of the life safety codes affect possible charges. He said he has not been given a deadline for making a decision.
It is too late to bring evidence to the grand jury that would meet early next month, Anderson said. But she would prefer a plea agreement be reached on charges, which she did not specify.
“No one is accusing him of intentionally trying to harm those kids,” Anderson said.
The fire killed residents David Bragdon Jr., 27, Ashley Thomas, 29, and Nicole Finlay, 26; and visitors Christopher Conlee, 25, and Maelisha Jackson, 26, and Steven Summers, 29.
All but Summers died at the scene from smoke inhalation, according to the state Office of the Medical Examiner. Summers died from burns Nov. 4, 2014, at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Thomas and Finlay had third-floor bedrooms with insufficient outside exits, according to wrongful death lawsuits filed by their families last winter in Cumberland County Superior Court.
Nisbet faces four wrongful death suits from the fire; all claim the 20 Noyes St. home did not have working smoke detectors for at least a year before the blaze.
The code violation for upstairs rooms and lack of working smoke detectors are the two primary factors Anderson said could lead to criminal charges, even though she said it is evident tenants at some point had disconnected the alarms.
“We feel the level of noncompliance rises to the level of criminal conduct,” she said, because as a landlord, Nisbet was required to walk tenants through the building and establish the alarms were working.
The report by State Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas has been sealed as part of the criminal investigation that began last winter, but in February, Thomas said the fire was caused by a cigarette that ignited trash on the front porch.
The lawsuits claim the tenants’ escape route from the second floor was blocked by a bookcase, but Anderson said the investigation showed the stairway was blocked perhaps a day or two before the fire.
“There is no no allegation Mr. Nisbet did anything to block access to the outdoors,” she said.
No one on the 24 Noyes St. section of the home was injured in the fire, and the building was demolished Feb. 6.