Mayor Ethan Strimling says Portland should move up its plan to purchase body cameras for police officers – but not just in response to this weekend’s shooting of a young man outside a strip mall on St. John Street.

“It’s just good policy,” Strimling said Monday, two days after the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Chance David Baker by a Portland police officer. “Anything we can add to help in these types of investigations is a good thing.”

The officer who shot Baker – Sgt. Nicholas Goodman – is on administrative leave pending an investigation, which is standard protocol, but Strimling and others said video footage could have aided that investigation.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and the local group Progressive Portland also urged the city to outfit officers with body cameras in the wake of Saturday’s shooting.

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling

“One thing we do know is that eyewitness accounts are not infallible. In this case, initial reports were that the victim was a middle-aged white man. He turned out to be a 22-year-old black man,” the ACLU said in a written statement. “We expect there will be many differing accounts of what happened in the moments leading up to the shooting as well. With that in mind, we urge the Portland Police Department to fast-track its body camera program. The department has earmarked money to implement body cameras starting in 2019, but we cannot afford to wait that long for this vital accountability tool. Introducing body cameras, along with proper policies to protect privacy and due process, will help us better understand what happens in these situations.”

Progressive Portland also said cameras could have helped.

“Witness reports are not completely consistent, and it’s far too soon to engage in speculation. But one thing is clear: If the incident had been recorded by police body cameras, we wouldn’t be so dependent on inconsistent eyewitness accounts,” the group said.

Some witnesses to the shooting Saturday at Union Station Plaza did take pictures and videos of the incident, but it’s not clear whether any of them would be turned over to investigators.

Witnesses said Baker was walking around the parking lot, screaming and pointing a gun at cars. Investigators later determined that it was a rifle-style pellet gun with a wooden stock and a scope that he bought that morning at a pawnshop in the strip mall.

Chance Baker

When police officers responded, they found Baker still holding the weapon in front of a Subway restaurant. Baker was shot in the forehead, and his body fell onto the sidewalk outside the Subway restaurant and Happy Nails building near the corner of Congress and St. John streets.

The Maine Attorney General’s Office, as it does with all fatal shootings by law enforcement officers, will investigate Baker’s death to see whether Sgt. Goodman’s use of deadly force was justified.

It is extremely rare for a shooting not to be ruled justified. In 2012, the Portland Press Herald investigated all police shootings in Maine going back to 1990. In those 101 cases, the Attorney General’s Office ruled in favor of the officer every single time, and there hasn’t been a shooting since then where an officer hasn’t been cleared.

Goodman was involved in another fatal shooting back in 2008, which was ruled a justifiable homicide by then-Attorney General Steven Rowe.

Police departments across the country have begun to outfit officers with body cameras, partly in response to a rash of high-profile shootings by officers where eyewitness accounts differed from the narrative offered by police. Shootings are often hotly debated, dividing those who side with police in protecting the public at all costs and those who think officers might be overzealous in tense situations. Recent incidents that involved white police officers killing black people have inflamed racial tensions.

Some departments in Maine already have begun using body cameras, most recently in South Portland.

Strimling advocated for a trial program in next year’s budget and made his case at last Thursday’s finance committee meeting, just two days before the shooting.

“I know the city manager, the police chief and many city councilors share the desire to incorporate body cameras into our public safety procedures, and we have earmarked $400,000 for (fiscal year 2019) to this effort. But I urged the city manager that we include a small amount of seed money in (fiscal year 2018) to purchase the equipment to create a small trial program,” the mayor wrote. “Making this commitment now, as opposed to a year from now, ensures the community knows we are serious and will also allow us time to test the equipment and make necessary adjustments.”

On Monday, he said he would discuss whether to include the entire $400,000 in the 2018 budget instead.

“We want to do it right, but I don’t think we can afford to wait any longer,” Strimling said.

Deputy Police Chief Vern Malloch, who often acts as a spokesman for the police department, did not respond to a request for comment.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

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