The owner of the Noyes Street duplex where six people died in a 2014 fire has reported to jail to serve his three-month sentence for a misdemeanor safety code violation that contributed to the deaths.

Gregory Nisbet is believed to be the first landlord sent to jail for a safety code violation.

Gregory J. Nisbet, 52, reported to the Cumberland County Jail on Wednesday and is now housed in a unit alongside other sentenced inmates, said Corrections Capt. Steve Butts. Nisbet’s jail term is believed to be the first meted out to a landlord for a safety code violation.

Like most inmates not on special restrictions, Nisbet will spend all but roughly 15 hours a day locked in a cell. As long as he follows the rules, he will be eligible to reduce his jail time by one week per month, and can earn even more credit if he gets a job in jail.

“As long as he’s behaving himself and following the rules, the (classification) committee will review him and could approve him for inmate work,” Butts said.

Nisbet’s latest possible release date is Nov. 20, according to jail records.

His stint behind bars ends a three-year legal saga that began in 2015 with a nine-count grand jury indictment, including for six counts of manslaughter.

Nisbet waived a jury trial. His case was heard in 2016 before a Cumberland County judge. He was found not guilty of the manslaughter charges, but was found guilty of a single misdemeanor safety code violation for failing to provide a secondary means of escape on the upper floor of the two-family home, among other factors.

Victims of the Noyes Street fire. Top row, from left: Ashley Thomas, David Bragdon, Maelisha Jackson. Bottom row, from left: Christopher Conlee, Nikki Finlay, Steven Summers.

At the crux of the case were the building’s third-floor windows, which were too small to serve as a secondary means of escape. A contractor notified Nisbet of the non-compliant windows, but Nisbet did not replace them. He argued at trial that he provided the third-floor tenants with a rope ladder to escape, satisfying his duty under the safety code.

After his 2016 conviction, Nisbet remained free while he appealed the case, arguing in part that the building safety codes were designed for modern structures, and that the state’s fire code is unconstitutionally vague and inconsistently enforced.

Maine’s highest court disagreed, however, and on Aug. 2 issued an opinion upholding his conviction and sentence.

Killed in the blaze were Nicole “Nikki” Finlay, 26; David Bragdon Jr., 27; Ashley Thomas, 29; Maelisha Jackson, 23, of Topsham; Steven Summers, 29, of Rockland; and Christopher Conlee, 25, of Portland. Bragdon, Finlay and Thomas were tenants. Jackson, Summers and Conlee were visiting the house for a Halloween party.

The duplex at 20 Noyes St. caught fire in the early hours of Nov. 1, 2014, when the young people inside were sleeping.

Investigators said the blaze started on the front porch in a plastic receptacle for cigarette butts and spread to a couch and chair nearby. It tore quickly through the building, which lacked functioning smoke detectors. Flames blocked a stairwell that might have allowed the people inside to escape.

The fire prompted an intense review of building inspection procedures in Portland, and led to the creation of a new city division, the Housing Safety Office, focused on building safety and inspections. To fund the office’s work the city imposed a fee on landlords of $35 per unit beginning on Jan. 1, 2016.

Nisbet’s sentencing sent shock waves through the landlord community. Some criticized the policy of prosecuting building owners for conditions inside apartment units, arguing that landlords do not have direct control over every aspect of a building’s condition at all times.

Tenants frequently remove or disable fire alarms, or block mandatory pathways of escape with furniture or other belongings, they said.

Carleton Winslow, the vice president of the Maine Apartment Owners and Managers Group, said he thought the manslaughter charges were a stretch.

“I think it was a minimal sentence, given the circumstances, but I think there were other things that (Nisbet) ignored, as reported,” said Winslow, who said he was speaking only for himself. “I do think the whole thing served as a wakeup call to a lot of people.”

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MattByrnePPH

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