The story originally reported that some of videos obtained were in slow-motion. This is incorrect. The story was corrected at 10:39 a.m. to reflect this change.

 

PORTLAND – Attorneys for Jonathan Mitchell have turned to the Internet to make their case that Portland police had no reason to shoot and wound Mitchell one night last April.

Portlandpolicebrutality.com, a website created by Mitchell’s family and legal team, includes videos taken by police cruiser cameras the night of the shooting.

The videos were obtained by Mitchell’s criminal defense attorney, J.P. DeGrinney, as part of the court discovery process to prepare for trial.

Mitchell was indicted and arraigned earlier this month on charges of reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon, being a habitual driving offender, criminal trespass, failure to stop for an officer and refusing to submit to arrest. He is being held at Cumberland County Jail pending trial.

The website is intended to show that Mitchell was not threatening officers Robert Miller and David Schertz when Miller shot him twice, once in the back of the shoulder and once in the neck, DeGrinney said.

“The purpose of the website is to clear up any possible misunderstandings — misunderstandings that have been sown by the Portland Police Department, that Jon was trying to use his vehicle as a dangerous weapon in order to escape,” DeGrinney said.

He was referring to a statement — a portion of which is included on the website — by then-Chief James Craig the day after the incident.

One of the video segments on the site shows the car Mitchell was driving as it rapidly pulled away from the officers with Miller firing at him. Miller is alongside the driver’s side rear door when the shots are fired and Schertz is to his left, which DeGrinney says shows they were not in danger.

The video does show that as Mitchell accelerates, he is turning to the left, the side the officers are on.

Assistant Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck declined to comment on the website or the case because of the multiple pending investigations.

Eric Nevins, president of the Portland Police Benevolent Association, which represents front-line officers, said a cruiser recording doesn’t give an accurate sense of what an officer is experiencing.

“I think that educated people will make their own determination, but certainly it seems like they’re trying to taint a potential jury pool,” Nevins said. “If they have a valid case to make, they should make it in court.”

Paul Gaspar, executive director of the Maine Association of Police, which represents officers across the state, said the video images do not reflect the magnitude of the situation and what was going through the officers’ minds at the time.

“What you see on the website are incredibly small snippets of a much larger event,” he said.

Gaspar said he did not want to engage in a public debate about the merits of the case, though he did say the video and the written commentary on it are tailored to suggest the police are involved in a conspiracy. He said it is highly unusual for lawyers to post video online of an officer-involved shooting, and that it could complicate the process of picking an impartial jury.

DeGrinney said the public display of the videos is not intended to pressure the city for a settlement or to reduce the charges against his client.

“I don’t know if this is going to have a good impact or a bad impact on the criminal or the civil case,” he said. “What happened here was wrong. The brass at the Portland Police Department are squinting at the light and they’re asking the public to do the same.”

Mitchell’s parents, Roger and Kim, asked that the website be created, according to the lawyers.

The Bangor-area couple are shown in a video, reading a statement that says Mitchell was wrong not to stop for police, but should not have been shot for that mistake. The videos show Mitchell was not trying to hurt the officers, they say, and he now has permanent health problems, including difficulty swallowing.

Mitchell, 30, of Veazie, was being sought April 10 after his estranged wife reported that he had broken into her apartment. Mitchell has a history of assault and of violating protection from abuse orders.

Police spotted the car he was driving and chased him, eventually following him to a dead-end road. Miller and Schertz approached the car, and Miller tried to get Mitchell out, but Mitchell drove off.

Miller shot Mitchell twice.

Mitchell’s attorney for a planned civil suit, Michael Turndorf, said the legal team has received a copy of Miller’s written statement about the incident.

Miller says he “fired a shot because he thought he was going to get sucked under the vehicle,” Turndorf said. But Turndof is challenging the officer’s assessment based on where he was at the time of the shooting.

The website also includes a video that shows a supervisor questioning Miller about the shooting, but the audio cuts out as he is describing it, after acknowledging that Mitchell did not have a gun.

The website does not include another camera’s recording that shows Mitchell’s driving and interaction with the officers in the seconds before the shooting. DeGrinney said that angle does not show the officers and Mitchell when the shooting occurred, but it also does not show Mitchell was using his car as a dangerous weapon in an effort to escape, he said.

The use of deadly force is being investigated by the Maine Attorney General’s Office to determine whether the officer believed at the time that his life or someone else’s was in imminent danger and he needed to use deadly force to eliminate the threat. That investigation could take several more weeks.

The use of deadly force has been found justified in the past in instances when an officer is trying to remove a suspect from a car, but gets dragged by the vehicle as the person tries to escape.

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

[email protected]