PORTLAND — The lawyer for a man who was shot by a Portland police officer April 10 says the officers’ lives were in no danger at the time and they had no justification to fire.

Jonathan Mitchell, 29, of Veazie was being sought in connection with a reported burglary when police chased him down a dead-end street. Police tried to arrest him, but he started to drive as officers tried to get him out of the car. He was shot twice, in the back of the shoulder and through the neck.

Mitchell drove off, but police found him a short while later at a friend’s apartment and arrested him. Two days later, his bail was set at $50,000 by a judge at his hospital bed at Maine Medical Center.

Mitchell is charged with driving with a license that was revoked because he is a habitual offender, criminal trespass, failure to stop for an officer, refusal to submit to arrest, and two counts of reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon.

Police say Mitchell, after pulling over at the end of Fairfield Street, tried to drive away so that Officer David Schertz was afraid he would be hit. The other officer, Robert Miller, fired two shots into the car, according to a police report.

Police found two shell casings on the ground near where a skid mark shows Mitchell was spinning the car’s tires, police reports say.

Mitchell’s lawyer, J.P. DeGrinney, said the evidence at the scene suggests that the officers were standing alongside each other, not in serious danger, and that there are “vast inconsistencies” between the officers’ account and the evidence.

“I’m very confident the evidence will exonerate Mr. Mitchell with respect to whether he was trying to drive over these officers or not,” DeGrinney said Monday.

The state Attorney General’s Office is examining the shooting to determine whether it was justified – whether police reasonably believed that deadly force was being threatened or used against someone, and that deadly force was needed to stop the threat.

In 85 rulings since 1990, when the Attorney General’s Office was mandated to do such reviews, no Maine police officer has been found to have used deadly force without justification. The reviews do not seek to determine whether police tactics were appropriate or other techniques could have been used before the use of force.

Using force without justification would open an officer and a department to liability and likely lead to criminal prosecution.

Miller has been a Portland police officer for three years and has no discipline records in his file.

At 4:40 a.m. on April 10, police were called to 90 Allen Ave. The woman there said she had awoken and found her estranged husband, Mitchell, in the apartment. Mitchell refused to leave until she called police, she said.

Mitchell has a long criminal history and his ex-wife told police that she left him because he was abusive.

Officers responded and Miller saw the Volkswagen Jetta that Mitchell was driving. After a short pursuit, Mitchell pulled onto Fairfield Street, police said.

Police accounts describe Miller and Schertz leaving their separate cruisers, drawing their weapons and ordering Mitchell out of the car as he backed toward them. They tried to get Mitchell out of the car, but were stymied by his seat belt.

As they tried to get him out, he depressed the accelerator and lurched forward, Schertz said in his report. Eventually, Mitchell sped forward and Miller fired.

Holes in the windows of the Jetta suggest the shots were fired through the driver’s side rear window.

Assistant Police Chief Michael Sauschuck declined to comment on the case because it is under investigation by the attorney general and the department’s internal affairs unit, which he said is standard.

Police did secure recordings from the cameras in Schertz’s and Miller’s cruisers.

DeGrinney, Mitchell’s court-appointed lawyer, said his client suffered a gunshot wound in the back of the shoulder and a neck wound from a .45-caliber bullet passing through his throat.

“My understanding is, the bullet passed behind his trachea and in front of his spine, threaded the needle between the jugular, carotid, trachea and spine,” DeGrinney said.

DeGrinney plans to seek a reduction in bail because the jail cannot accommodate his client’s medical needs. That hearing is set for Thursday.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]