PORTLAND – The Veazie man who was shot by a Portland police officer April 10 appeared in Cumberland County Superior Court on Thursday, seeking a reduction in his bail so he can recuperate from his injuries at his father’s house in Alton.

Jonathan Mitchell’s lawyer, J.P. DeGrinney, argued that Mitchell, who is being held in the county jail on $50,000 bail, can barely walk and is no risk of flight or danger to the public.

Mitchell sat silently in a wheelchair during the bail hearing, his head inclined slightly. A long red wound was visible beneath his left ear, showing where surgeons operated after the .45-caliber slug passed through his neck.

DeGrinney showed District Court Judge John O’Neil a video taken by one of the police cruiser’s cameras that night. The video shows two officers alongside Mitchell’s car when one of them, Robert Miller, fires two shots as the back half of the car passes him.

It shows Mitchell driving away, not trying to run over or into the officers, DeGrinney said, adding that the officer’s decision to shoot was not appropriate, nor is Mitchell’s charge of reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon.

“Both officers were standing behind the rear wheels of the Jetta (that Mitchell was driving) when he was shot,” said DeGrinney, who would not disclose where he obtained the video.

DeGrinney also said Mitchell, 30, may be having his constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment violated by conditions at the jail, because of the potential for infection and because he cannot have visitors while he’s in the infirmary.

Assistant District Attorney Deb Chmielewski recited Mitchell’s criminal history, including multiple convictions for violating bail conditions, violating probation and violating a protection-from-abuse order, as well as being on probation for aggravated assault, a felony. She said Mitchell is getting appropriate care in jail and should be held without bail until his trial.

“His wife is very frightened about what might happen if he’s released,” Chmielewski said, referring to the woman who called police on April 10 to report that Mitchell, her estranged husband, had broken into the apartment where she was sleeping.

O’Neil said he would consider the arguments and issue his decision today on whether Mitchell’s bail will be reduced.

Portland’s assistant police chief, Michael Sauschuck, declined to comment on the video or the circumstances of the shooting because of ongoing investigations by the Attorney General’s Office and the police department’s internal affairs unit, both of which are standard when an officer uses deadly force.

The attorney general will determine whether Miller reasonably believed that his life or the life of someone else was in imminent danger and deadly force was necessary to stop that threat. Those reviews typically take about 30 days.

Police were called to an apartment on Allen Avenue where Mitchell’s estranged wife was staying after she reported that he had broken in and was refusing to leave, police said.

Police saw the car Mitchell was driving and chased it to Fairfield Street, where he pulled over. Miller and David Schertz got out of their cars and tried to get Mitchell out of his, but were obstructed by his seat belt.

Mitchell drove forward and Miller fired two shots. One hit Mitchell in the back of the shoulder and one pierced his neck. Miller was put on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of the investigations.

The video shows the Jetta backing up a short distance as the officers try to get Mitchell out, though the camera’s view of the officers is somewhat blocked by another cruiser. The video then shows the car accelerating quickly while turning to the left.

Schertz appears to be momentarily in the path of the car’s open driver’s door. The door closes as it passes Schertz and then Miller, who has his gun drawn, and fires once, then again at Mitchell.

DeGrinney said that the car’s rear door is visible in front of the officers as the first shot is fired, and that the rear tire is visible as the second shot is fired.

He said that shows that the officers were not in danger and that Mitchell was not trying to use his car as a weapon.

Schertz wrote in his report that he was standing in front of the open driver’s door as Mitchell started to drive. “Knowing the lethality of a motor vehicle operated by a reckless driver, the entire time I was in the vicinity of the suspect and his vehicle I feared for my life,” he said.

Mitchell was arrested two hours later at the home of the car’s owner, on Washington Avenue.

DeGrinney said there is no question that the video will be shown to a civil jury as part of a lawsuit.

“It’s painfully ignorant to say the cops are always wrong,” DeGrinney said. “It’s no more wise to say they’re always right.”

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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