AUGUSTA — Brenda Dionne told a group of lawmakers Wednesday about the early morning in May 2017 when York County Sheriff William King knocked on her door to tell her that her son, Chad Dionne, had been killed by his deputies after a confrontation in Arundel.

Dionne said she yelled at King to leave. She said that because deputies in York County were not equipped with body cameras, she and her family will never have closure on what exactly led to her son’s death.

“I didn’t want him to finish the sentence,” Dionne said of King’s visit. “He then stated that Chad was deceased.”

Dionne spoke at a public hearing of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and urged the lawmakers to approve a bill that would require all police officers in Maine to wear body cameras.

She and other proponents said the requirement would improve transparency and ensure that police are acting responsibly when they investigate crimes or respond to emergencies. But opponents, including the Maine Sheriffs’ Association and Maine State Police, said the bill is a one-size-fits-all approach to a complex issue that is not only costly but fraught with downsides, including possible privacy violations for innocent people or those in a mental health crisis.

Dionne, of Biddeford, said the Maine Attorney General’s Office eventually ruled that police were justified in shooting her son, who was struggling with mental health issues. Under Maine law, the AG’s Office reviews whenever police use deadly force. Since 1990, it has investigated more than 100 cases of police shootings and found that all were justified.

She said it troubled her that some police agencies in Maine – about 50, including the city of Portland – equip some of their officers with body cameras and some do not.

“Nothing can bring Chad back,” Dionne said. “But going forward these cameras are going to be able to provide other families with information and can substantially account for what happened and provide closure.”

Footage from body cameras can also be used to help law enforcement refine their training and techniques to avoid tragedy going forward, she said.

Others testifying in support of the bill included Tina Nadeau of the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. She said body camera footage is invaluable in determining what occurred in any given situation.

“It not only protects the rights of the accused, but it also goes to protect law enforcement from being wrongly accused of any wrongdoing,” Nadeau said.

But Piscataquis County Sheriff Robert Young said body cameras are costly to operate and do not always provide a full accounting of what police area dealing with. He said cameras can also put some suspects on edge or can inadvertently capture footage that invades the privacy of innocent victims or bystanders.

The sheriff, representing the Maine’s Sheriffs’ Association, said there also was a misconception that body cameras increase police safety.

“Some people respond to being filmed negatively, even aggressively,” he said. He estimated the cost of equipping a sheriff’s department with 60 deputies at about $140,800 in the first year and $72,000 annually to maintain.

Maj. Chris Grotton of the Maine State Police said equipping all state troopers with body cameras would cost an estimated $3 million, a price that does not include the cost of ongoing maintenance and the processing and storage of digital footage, which would also require additional equipment and staff.

He said state police support “honest transparency and the documentation and objective review of our actions,” noting that camera systems in patrol cruisers had proven beneficial and effective. Grotton also questioned language in the bill that allows police to turn off body cameras when they are doing “community care-taking activities” but requires them to activate the cameras when they are doing “law enforcement activities.”

“This is unrealistic because these functions are so often intertwined and unpredictable,” Grotton said. Grotton also said that unlike the cruiser-mounted cameras, body cameras are recording “up close the most personal, tragic, heart-wrenching, embarrassing, and often final moments of a citizen’s life.”

Jenna Mehnert, executive director of the National Alliance of Mental Illness Maine, opposed the bill as an unfunded mandate that would cost police departments money. She said that money would be better spent on hiring more officers, paying them more and providing them with better resources and training for responding to people in mental health crisis.

Bill sponsor Sen. Susan Deschambault, D-Biddeford, and her lead co-sponsor, Rep. Richard Pickett, R-Dixfield, a former police chief and state police detective, said they realized the bill would face opposition and would likely need revisions to move forward.

“I want this bill to be a launching pad to initiate a thoughtful discussion among all stakeholders,” Deschambault said. Pickett echoed that sentiment. “We wanted to get the dialogue going and it is going,” he said.

The bill, L.D. 636, will be the subject of a work session before the committee in the days ahead before it reaches the full Legislature for consideration.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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Correction: This story was updated at 2:20 p.m. Thursday March 7, 2019 to correct Brenda Dionne’s last name.