March 11, 2010

Gunman, police had history of contact

DAVID HENCH

— By

David Ochan Okot, DOB 10/10/1982. Mug shot from Cumberland County Sheriff's Office.

Staff Writer

Portland police said Monday that the man fatally shot by officers over the weekend had a long history of contact with authorities.

The man's family said the shooting is indicative of a feud with police.

Interim Police Chief Joseph Loughlin said David Okot, 26, of Portland, pulled a gun on officers as they arrived Saturday night to investigate a complaint of an unidentified man displaying a weapon.

Officers Benjamin Roper and Joshua Wiseman ''were placed in a situation where they were forced to take action, they were forced to engage the individual,'' Loughlin said. ''I do know one of the officers believed he was firing at them.''

Loughlin said Okot had run onto a porch at 11 Weymouth St. when the officers arrived. He also said police recovered a semiautomatic pistol that they say Okot was carrying.

Members of Okot's family, who came to Maine in 1996 after fleeing Sudan's civil war, say they have had many problems with police, and in 2001 filed an excessive force lawsuit against the department. It was later dismissed.

Jackline Okot, David Okot's sister, said she does not know whether her brother had a gun Saturday night, and claimed that he was not given medical attention right away.

''He got shot on the porch and dragged'' down to the sidewalk, she said. ''His body was lying there till about 3 a.m. with no medical attention. They laid him there to die alone.''

Loughlin disputed that claim. He said one person who was with Okot on the porch ducked into the house, and police had to make sure that building was safe before rescue workers could approach it. Officers removed Okot's body from the porch to a place where he could receive medical attention while officers searched the house, the chief said.

''He did receive medical attention very quickly,'' but was pronounced dead at the scene, Loughlin said.

An autopsy Monday by the state Medical Examiner's Office concluded that Okot died of multiple gunshot wounds.

''This has been a tough and difficult situation and a tragedy for the family of the deceased, as well as the officers and their families,'' Loughlin said. ''Our appeal is that everyone remains calm as ... we get all the facts of the case.''

Loughlin spoke to leaders in the Sudanese community Sunday, but some were out of state. A larger group meeting was postponed until several leaders could be present, he said.

Roper and Wiseman are on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of inquiries into the shooting. The department is conducting an internal affairs investigation, and by law, the state attorney general conducts a criminal probe in all instances of officers' use of deadly force.

Jackline Okot said the family has not prepared a formal statement and is working with an attorney. Family members said they were very upset that they were unable to view the body after the shooting, and that police delayed an official release of Okot's name until Monday.

They have not been able to make funeral arrangements because Okot's body is still with the medical examiner, she said.

''It's very, very painful,'' Jackline Okot said. ''It would be very painful for any human being when someone has taken your loved one ... not even giving them a chance to fight for their life.''

Jackline Okot conceded that her brother has had problems with the law, but said he was not in trouble the night he was shot.

''He never assaulted any officer,'' she said. ''What he did, he served his time for.''

Portland police have more than 50 documented contacts with Okot, and he had convictions for threatening display of a weapon, theft, criminal mischief and violating bail conditions, police said.

Okot has been brought to the Cumberland County Jail 22 times since he turned 18. A worker at Cumberland County Superior Court said the court has 24 separate case files on Okot; they were not immediately available.

Okot also had contact with police as a juvenile, including a history of weapons violations, according to police accounts.

Okot was charged with domestic violence assault in October 2007, and aggravated criminal mischief in September of that year for allegedly slashing car tires with a knife. A conviction on either charge would have prohibited him from carrying a gun, but records with the State Bureau of Identification show no felony convictions and no convictions for domestic assault.

He did not have a concealed weapons permit, police said.

A case involving police and Okot in 2001 led to a highly charged lawsuit.

Police were called to the family's apartment by a family member who said Okot might have taken drugs and was threatening to hurt himself and others.

Police said that when they arrived, Okot had a screwdriver and a fork and was having a psychotic episode. He was ultimately taken to the hospital for evaluation.

According to police reports, when they tried to subdue Okot, family members joined in the melee, punching at the officers and at one point biting an officer on the arm. Police said the family thought officers were killing Okot, as sometimes happened in their native country.

The family filed suit, charging police with using excessive force for hitting or spraying several family members with pepper spray, but the suit was dismissed.

Jackline Okot said there have been bad feelings between the family and police since then.

''They are very familiar with the Okot family. They have hatred for the Okot family,'' she said.

Police said they cannot provide further details about Saturday's shooting until the attorney general's investigation is completed, which usually takes about a month.

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

dhench@pressherald.com

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