Bedford NH May 18 2012 A Bedford police sergeant who committed suicide last Friday was facing a theft charge along with a Hill officer alleging they stole a vest with a “Road Dawgs” police motorcycle club insignia from a Concord store last year.
Gary Norton, 48, a 15-year veteran of the Bedford department, was found dead in his Newbury home last Friday night, according to Assistant Safety Commissioner Earl Sweeney.
Sweeney confirmed Norton’s death was a suicide and that he died from a gunshot wound, but he wasn’t sure whether Norton used a personal or police-issued weapon.
“He was a highly respected and very much people-oriented person,” Sweeney said. “It certainly is a tragedy for someone to take his life over something like that. It’s a shame for him and his family.”
Norton and Hill police Sgt. Jonathan Evans, 56, were charged with theft by unauthorized taking, a class B misdemeanor, in connection with the vest theft May 21, 2011, from the Pepper Defense Supply store in Concord.
They were both said to be members of Road Dawgs Motorcycle Club at the time, which is only open to active and retired police. Evans did not return phone calls.
Criminal complaints against Norton and Evans were filed last Friday morning in Concord District Court, according to Assistant Cheshire County Attorney John Webb, who is prosecuting because of a conflict in the Merrimack County Attorney’s Office.
The owner of the store, Brian Blackden, 47, who is also a freelance photographer for various news organizations, has a history of run-ins with police.
Blackden was shocked to learn that Norton took his own life.
“It makes me feel terrible for his family, and I just don’t think this would have been reason enough to do something like that,” Blackden said.
The vest, which Blackden obtained three years before in a storage bin sale, was taken from his 485 North State St. store by five men wearing Road Dawgs Motorcycle Club vests, he said.
“They rushed the store. Three of the men blocked me in front of the counter,” Blackden said. Another man blocked the entrance while another forcefully removed the vest from a mannequin, he said.
Blackden immediately called Concord police with full descriptions and a vanity plate.
He said he can’t understand why it took almost a year to investigate and only two faced charges.
“If it had been the Hells Angels or anyone else, they would have been arrested within hours by a SWAT team,” Blackden said.
Blackden believes the theft was retaliation because he sued New Hampshire State Police after troopers confiscated his camera at a fatal accident scene in Canterbury in August of 2010. Belsito Communications, a New York-based news agency that lists Blackden as a correspondent, is suing state police as well.
Blackden, who has sold photographs to the New Hampshire Union Leader and other news outlets, drove a converted ambulance with the words 1st Responder News on the side to the Canterbury crash.
He wore a fire protective coat and helmet with the word Photographer on both sides when police confiscated his camera, according to news reports at the time.
After the lawsuit was filed, Blackden was charged and convicted of impersonating emergency personnel at the Canterbury crash scene and a red light restriction violation. Concord Attorney Penny Dean has appealed the impersonation conviction to the state Supreme Court.
Hill Police Chief David Kratz said Jonathan Evans has been with his department for about seven years. He and selectmen decided there will be no change in Evans’ employment status to see what happens at trial, Kratz said.
“Sgt. Evans has always been a superior officer for us,” Kratz said.
Mike Brady, chairman of the Hill selectmen, said he was aware of the pending theft charge against Evans.
“John has been a good officer in Hill,” Brady said.
Evans was formerly a member of the Road Dawgs Motorcycle Club, but is no longer affiliated with the group, Brady said.