A federal judge will allow a wrongful death lawsuit to move forward against a Portland police officer who shot and killed a 22-year-old man in 2017.

Chance David Baker died five years ago this month when Sgt. Nicholas Goodman shot him in Union Station Plaza. Police responded to 911 calls about a man walking around the shopping plaza with what turned out to be an air rifle, and Goodman shot him within minutes of arriving at the scene.

Chance David Baker

The young man’s mother and grandmother filed a lawsuit against Goodman that claimed he used illegal and excessive deadly force against Baker. Goodman argued in court documents that his use of force was reasonable because he believed Baker posed an immediate threat to officers and the public.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge John Woodcock denied qualified immunity to Goodman in a lengthy order that could clear a path to a settlement or a jury trial. Qualified immunity is a complex legal doctrine often used to shield police from lawsuits, and such a decision is rare but not unheard of. The judge said many facts are in dispute, but a jury could interpret the evidence to find that Goodman did not act in a reasonable manner when he fired the fatal shot.

“Here, the Plaintiffs have raised genuine issues of material fact that preclude a conclusion that at the time Sgt. Goodman shot him, Chance Baker posed such a threat,” Woodcock wrote. “Although Sgt. Goodman subjectively believed that he, other officers, and the public were at risk, the Court must view the reasonableness of his use of force through an objective lens. Based on the Court’s analysis and in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, it was clearly established at the time of Mr. Baker’s death that Sgt. Goodman’s action violated Mr. Baker’s Fourth Amendment rights.”

Hunter Tzovarras, the attorney who represents the Baker family, said Friday that he and his clients are pleased with the decision.


“It’s been a long five years for them,” he said. “And even though the decision today was in our favor, the case still isn’t over. It doesn’t offer closure necessarily. It certainly lets them feel that their efforts to this point have been justified, that the court saw that this wasn’t a case that should be dismissed at this point.”

Goodman could appeal the decision to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

John Wall, the attorney who represents Goodman, said Friday that he could not respond to questions about the order because he was out of state for work and had not yet discussed it with his client.

Jessica Grondin, a city spokeswoman, said the police chief was not available Friday and she wouldn’t be able to comment on the case. She confirmed that Goodman still works for the department and is now a lieutenant.

Family members and friends remembered Baker as generous with his friends, determined to improve his circumstances and hardworking at his multiple jobs. They also said his behavior before his death became erratic and concerning and they believed he struggled with undiagnosed mental illness. On the day of the shooting, Baker was also drunk – at least three times the legal limit to drive.

Court documents outline the deadly interaction between Goodman and Baker.


The complaint says Baker bought the air rifle on Feb. 18, 2017, at a pawn shop in Union Station Plaza, near the intersection of Congress and St. John streets. He was unsteady on his feet and fell on the sidewalk at one point. Several people called 911 because they were concerned about his condition and his gun. Dispatchers told the officers who responded to the plaza that some callers reported the weapon was a rifle or a shotgun while others said it was a pellet or BB gun.

Goodman said in his motion that he believed it was a rifle.

Goodman and another officer approached Baker and watched him from beside a pickup truck. He appeared to be moving the apparent weapon in an erratic way and did not react to officer commands. He put it down, took a swig from a bottle and then picked it up again. Goodman fired a single fatal shot at Baker less than three minutes after he arrived at the plaza.

In 2018, the Maine Attorney General’s Office ruled the shooting to be justified. The office investigates all shootings by police officers in Maine and has never found one to be unjustified.

In 2019, the Baker family filed their lawsuit. Their central claim is that Goodman violated the Fourth Amendment, which protects against excessive force. The initial complaint also named as a defendant the Portland pawn shop that sold Baker the air rifle, but Woodcock dismissed those counts in 2020.

Last year, Goodman filed a motion for summary judgment and asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed. He argued that he did not violate Baker’s constitutional rights because his use of force was justified, and that if it wasn’t, the case law wasn’t clear enough for him to be held liable. That argument invokes qualified immunity, which dictates when an officer can be sued for a civil rights violation.


Woodcock found Goodman is not entitled to qualified immunity and denied the motion for summary judgment. He said the parties have genuine disputes about what happened – whether Baker actually aimed his air rifle at people or at the officers before he was shot, if his finger was even on the trigger, whether he posed a real threat to those around him – and that a reasonable jury could decide that Baker did not pose a threat that justified deadly force.

The judge also said that if the jury reached that conclusion, they could also find that case law clearly establishes that it is unreasonable and in violation of the Fourth Amendment for an officer to fire on an armed, immobile person who is not using his weapon in a threatening manner. He said the jury could find that the officers could have used less lethal force against Baker or waited longer to fire.

“Here, the Plaintiffs have raised genuine issues of material fact that preclude a conclusion that at the time Sgt. Goodman shot him, Chance Baker posed such a threat,” Woodcock wrote.

Tzovarras said the court likely will schedule a settlement conference and then possibly a trial.

“We’re prepared to try the case and ready to try it if we can’t reach a fair resolution,” he said.

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