Fatal Police Shooting in Maine Sparks Debate Over Body Cameras

Mayor Strimling said it would be helpful to have footage from a body camera in an investigation like this one

After police in Portland, Maine, shot and killed a man pointing a pellet gun in a parking lot, the city’s mayor wants to fast-track an effort to get police officers body cameras.

“What happened this weekend raises the profile of the importance of making sure we have video of what occurred,” said Mayor Ethan Strimling.

On Saturday, police say 22-year-old Chance Baker bought a BB gun, walked outside the store, and pointed it in the parking lot.

“We received multiple 911 calls,” said Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck. “Various callers reported it as a shot gun. All of the callers were very concerned.”

The chief said his officers gave Baker verbal commands and, when he did not comply, Sgt. Nicholas Goodman shot and killed Baker.

“We’re concerned that a suspect may use imminent deadly force on someone else,” said Sauschuck.

The Portland Police Department and the Maine Attorney General’s office are investigating the shooting. Mayor Strimling said it would be helpful to have footage from a body camera in an investigation like this one.

“Getting a more accurate picture of what’s occurred serves the police, and serves the community,” he said.

The city’s FY 2019 budget has earmarked funds to purchase body cameras for the Portland Police Department, but Strimling would like the program to start sooner.

“My push is to begin this implementation as soon as possible,” he said, adding that he has held this position before the weekend shooting.

The chief says in this situation, Baker was 100 feet away from the officers, and a body camera wouldn’t necessarily provide helpful footage. He then accused the mayor, and other “organizations” of using this tragedy to further a “political agenda around body cameras.”

“I’m saddened, disappointed, and I’ll tell you, I’m disgusted,” said the police chief.

A handful of police departments in Maine have implemented body camera programs, including South Portland.

“We feel it’s important, but it’s not the end all, be all,” South Portland Police Chief Edward Googins. He said body cameras can provide helpful footage, but they don’t capture everything.

He said it took his department three years to research, purchase, draft policy, and implement the body cameras.

The ACLU of Maine supports police officers wearing cameras, but cautions departments to carefully consider how they are used.

“We want to make sure we know when they cameras are turned on," said ACLU of Maine Executive Director Alison Beyea, "who is going to have access to that footage, and how we’re going to protect people’s civil liberties.”

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