The state’s highest court ruled Thursday against a Lewiston man, upholding his conviction on several charges, including assault on a law enforcement officer.

Nicholas Begin, 28, had been at the Bartlett Street home of a woman named “Ashley,” who had secured a protection order against Begin, according to a written opinion issued by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Lewiston police officer Matthew Vierling had met with Ashley on April 19, 2013, and went with her to her home to serve Begin with the court order. When Vierling presented Begin with the papers outside Ashley’s home and told him to wait at the front of the house, Begin bolted into the home through a garage. Vierling, who had ordered Begin not to go into the home, followed him after yelling for him to stop and tried to prevent him from climbing an interior staircase.

“Vierling grabbed hold of his arm,” the court’s written opinion read. “Begin struck Vierling with his elbow, and Vierling held Begin from behind and tried to drag him back outside. At one point, Begin appeared to reach for a screwdriver that was on a nearby workbench and Vierling, fearing that Begin would use the screwdriver as a weapon, placed Begin in a chokehold. Begin also pulled at Vierling’s handgun, which was in a holster secured to Vierling’s waist. Vierling was eventually able to pull Begin outside and the two continued to struggle until other officers arrived and placed Begin under arrest.”

In addition to assaulting an officer, Begin was charged with violation of a protective order and refusing to submit to arrest. He went to trial on April 17, 2014, and was convicted on all three counts.

Defense attorney Verne Paradie Jr. argued before the high court earlier this year in Portland that prosecutors had engaged in misconduct during opening statements at the trial, prejudicing the jury against Begin. The trial judge had denied a motion for mistrial.

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Paradie also argued that the trial judge erred or abused its discretion by including testimony about details of an unrelated prior incident not involving Begin and allowing prosecutors to introduce evidence that Begin contacted a witness, violating a protection order and his bail conditions. Paradie also argued that the trial judge excluded certain recorded telephone conversations from evidence after prosecutors introduced limited portions of those recordings.

On the witness stand, Begin testified that he hadn’t known about the protection order and had been confused about what it meant. He said he misunderstood Vierling and believed he was allowed to retrieve his belongings, but was barred from returning to the home after he left. He also said he hadn’t reached for a screwdriver or Vierling’s gun and only struggled with the officer after he began to choke him.

Prosecutors played portions of phone calls between Begin and his mother to show that he had been aware of the protection order before he was served, that he was upset about it and that he had understood it ordered him to leave the house.

Begin was sentenced to 4½ years in prison, with all that time suspended except for 14 months.

The high court considered Begin’s objection to the trial judge allowing Vierling to testify about a domestic violence incident on Webster Street in Lewiston in 1999, in which the plaintiff in a protection order was standing on the sidewalk when she was shot and killed by the defendant. He had been allowed by a police officer to go back inside the home after he had been served the order. He fired a high-caliber rifle out a window, killing his estranged girlfriend. He then killed himself.

Paradie argued that allowing the Webster Street testimony was unfairly prejudicial against Begin.

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“Because the jury was tasked with determining the reasonableness of Vierling’s use of force, the court properly determined that evidence related to Vierling’s state of mind was relevant,” according to the high court’s opinion.

Begin had testified that Vierling had no reason to believe he had a gun in the home and that Ashley had been outside. That “opened the door for it” by introducing to the jury the circumstances of the situation, the opinion reads. “The testimony was relevant.”

A prosecutor, during opening statements, told jurors it was their role to hold Begin “accountable” for his illegal actions. Although the state later acknowledged that its phrasing was improper, it argued any resulting error was harmless, the high court wrote. Allowing Begin’s defense counsel to address the prosecutor’s improper remark in its own opening statement made up for any misconduct, the court wrote.

“Based on our review of the trial record, we are satisfied that any prejudice resulting from the prosecutor’s improper remarks was adequately remedied by the court’s response,” according to the high court.

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