PORTLAND — The Portland officer who shot a Veazie man in April as he tried to escape police was justified in using deadly force, Attorney General William Schneider concluded in a report released Friday.

The report found that Officer Robert Miller reasonably believed that he needed to use deadly force to protect himself and Officer David Schertz from Jonathan Mitchell as the suspect accelerated abruptly in a car. Schneider also determined that Miller reasonably believed Mitchell was likely to harm someone if he wasn’t apprehended.

In the early morning of April 10, Mitchell, then 29, led police on a high-speed chase that ended at a dead end on Fairfield Street. Miller was responding to a call about a man breaking into the Allen Avenue apartment of an ex-wife or girlfriend and then fleeing in a car.

Miller chased the car to Fairfield Street, where Mitchell positioned the Volkswagen Jetta to drive back onto Veranda Street. Miller approached, opened the driver’s door, repeatedly ordered Mitchell to get out and tried to grab him a number of times, according to the report.

When Miller was able to grab Mitchell, Mitchell accelerated so powerfully that the car fishtailed and the tires spun, the report stated. Both officers moved away, but the car initially caught Miller and pulled him forward as Schertz tried to get out of the open door’s path, according to the report.

Miller let go of Mitchell and fired two shots, which hit him in the neck and the upper back. Mitchell escaped but was found about 90 minutes later at a friend’s apartment. His family has said the shooting has left him with permanent health issues, including difficulty swallowing.

“Based upon their training and experience, the officer believed that they were faced with an immediate, deadly threat and Officer Miller had no choice but to fire his weapon in self-defense and in defense of Officer Schertz,” Interim Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said at a press conference Friday.

Sauschuck said that while the outcome of the Attorney General’s investigation was expected — he characterized the findings as the final “dot on the i, cross on the t” — the officers’ lives have been turned upside down.

J.P. DeGrinney, Mitchell’s lawyer, said he was “profoundly disappointed.” He questioned how the officers could be threatened when Mitchell was shot in the back driving away from — rather than toward — them. He also called into question the value of deadly force investigations.

“We ought to save everybody the time and the bother and the taxpayer resources and not do them,” he said. “If this isn’t an unreasonable use of force, then such doesn’t exist.” Michael Turndorf, a lawyer who plans to file an excessive force suit for Mitchell, said he was not surprised by the outcome, given the extremely narrow focus of the investigations.

“For as long as I can remember, the AG’s office has not issued a decision against any officer. Despite this fact, a number of civil cases have still gone forward and that is precisely what we intend to do,” Turndorf wrote in an email message.

In August, Mitchell pleaded guilty to some charges stemming from the incident. Charges related to accusations that he had used the car in a dangerous manner while fleeing and had broken into the apartment — two counts of reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon and one count of criminal trespass — were dropped as part of a plea deal. DeGrinney said at the time that Mitchell’s wife had falsely reported a break-in after an argument.

Mitchell, now 30, is serving a sentence of nine months and a day — the mandatory minimum penalty for being a habitual driving offender. That was the most serious offense remaining in the plea agreement.

The Attorney General’s Office investigates all uses of deadly force by police in Maine. The investigations aim to determine whether self-defense or the defense of others rules out criminal prosecution.

The report noted that deadly force is justified, in certain circumstances, to make an arrest or prevent an escape. The requirements include that the officer must reasonably believe that the suspect could seriously harm someone unless apprehended without delay.

“The analysis requires careful attention to the facts and circumstances of a particular case, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of officers or others, and whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight,” the report stated.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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