Evidence technician Jon Reeder points out a shell casing to Lt. Robert Martin on the day after Russell Solak was shot last week in downtown Portland. Staff photo by Derek Davis

By the time the first police officer found him on the steps of the Preble Street Resource center late on May 30, Russell Solak was writhing in pain.

Solak’s shirt was pushed up his chest, and police could see one tiny circular wound where a bullet had entered his left rib cage.

As EMTs rushed Solak to the hospital, Officer Matt Pavlis sat by his side in the back of ambulance, asking him the only question that mattered: “Who shot you, Russell?”

The reply was faint.

“I don’t know,” Solak said.

The man they would ultimately arrest three days later – 32-year-old William Ficklin, a transient – was a stranger to Solak, 39, and unknown to Portland police.

At a news conference Friday, police Lt. Robert Martin was tight-lipped about the details of the shooting, but he did thank the public for help in the investigation. “We received several tips from the homeless community, friends, family, that eventually led us to (Ficklin),” he said.

How investigators tracked down the alleged shooter three days after the late-night confrontation is revealed in unusually detailed police reports filed in Portland Unified Criminal Court. The documents offer a rare glimpse into the work of police, and the investigation of Solak’s shooter has it all: Shoe-leather detective work. A confidential informant. Cellphone location tracking. Covert surveillance. And finally, an arrest. Police typically provide minimal information in the public court file, but in this case, the twisting path to an arrest apparently required the disclosure of more detail to justify charging Ficklin.

“It literally was a bread crumb trail,” Martin said later.

TUESDAY

The first inkling of what happened came late on the night Solak was shot. At Maine Medical Center, Officer Pavlis waited as Solak had emergency surgery.

The officer was approached by Michael Gray, 29, a friend of the victim, who told Pavlis that he was with Solak when he was shot. Solak, Gray and Solak’s cousin were walking in the Preble Street area that night looking to buy crack cocaine.

As Solak and his cousin stood a half-block away, Gray made the transaction by a lamp post at a garage entrance, paying $100 for three rocks.

“Gray stated that the rocks were small and he was pissed because he felt like he was ripped off,” Detective Kelly Gorham, the lead investigator, wrote in one report.

When Gray told the man he wanted his money back, the dealer pulled a gun.

Three or four shots rang out. But who was the shooter? Gray didn’t know his name.

Meanwhile, back at Preble Street, other officers were combing through surveillance footage, looking for clues. One officer found an empty shell casing. Others interviewed witnesses, who said they saw a man in his late 20s or early 30s with long brown hair running from the scene, but no one knew his name.

WEDNESDAY

William Ficklin, a transient accused of shooting Russell Solak on Preble Street last week, makes his initial court appearance on Monday. Staff photo by Derek Davis

Less than twelve hours after Solak was shot, Gorham, the lead detective, returned to Solak’s hospital room. The bullet that entered Solak’s abdomen had lodged in his liver, a grave injury that could have killed him, police said. He was out of surgery and awake, but in terrible pain.

Gorham posed the same question as Pavlis: Who shot you?

“I just met him last night,” Solak told her. “I don’t know, but when I get outta here I’m gonna find out.”

Gorham asked about a crack deal, but Solak began screaming in agony. She would have to come back later.

At the scene, police finally found footage from the Preble Street Garage that showed the whole interaction.

Gray and an unidentified man walked toward each other. The man pulled a silver gun from his waistband, then muzzle flashes. Who was he?

By 4 p.m. Wednesday, Gorham had her second big break.

Another detective called to say that a confidential informant with a trusted record had gotten in touch. The informant told investigators that the shooter was a white guy from Massachusetts who had not been in town very long, and that he goes by the street names “Phab, Fat or Fatty,” the police report said. The informant also had his telephone number.

Later that night, another officer working a detail at the Oxford Street Shelter was approached by a staffer with a tip from someone staying there. The staffer handed the officer a slip of paper. On it was a phone number – the same one provided by the informant. The tipster said the shooter went by “Phab” and was staying at a motel in Westbrook.

They were getting closer.

THURSDAY

Police returned to Solak’s hospital room. This time he was in better condition to talk.

Solak told investigators that his girlfriend, Amanda Schlosser, knew the alleged shooter, and had bought crack from him before. She later told police that his first name was William, and that she heard from a cab driver that he was staying with his wife or girlfriend at the Maine Motel on Main Street in South Portland.

When police inquired at the motel, a clerk gave them the name of the woman who reserved the room, April Marie Conrad. The motel clerk also handed over a hand-written note with another name: William D. Ficklin.

Gorham put the name into Facebook. The profile photo was a hit.

“Ficklin bore a strong resemblance to the shooter,” Gorham wrote in a report. But where was he?

At 4:28 p.m., a Cumberland County judge signed a search warrant for the mystery phone number. By about 8 p.m., the cellphone company had pinged the phone to determine its location. It last registered in the Old Port. Officers canvassed more hotels. Conrad and Ficklin had checked into the Residence Inn by Marriott on Fore Street.

Hotel staff gave detectives the room across the hall.

At 11:15 p.m., Officer Eric Johnson looked through the peep hole at the door to room 230, and saw a man with a freshly shaved head.

It was Ficklin.

FRIDAY

Police watched as Conrad left the room alone Friday morning. Ficklin was still inside. At 9:40 a.m., the door to room 230 open slightly. Ficklin stuck his head out. The coast looked clear.

As he walked down the hall, a police tactical team descended on him. Ficklin was taken into custody without incident. In the hotel room, police found more drugs, multiple cellphones, and in the bathroom, a set of hair clippers.

Three days after police got the call about shots fired on Preble Street, Ficklin was charged with attempted murder, elevated aggravated assault, criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon, reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. He is being held at Cumberland County Jail on $500,000 bail.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MattByrnePPH