Sudanese urged to stay calm after Portland police shooting

Posted April 27, 2009, at 9:03 a.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Police officials met with members of the city’s Sudanese community to try to calm fears after police officers shot and killed an armed 26-year-old Sudanese man.

Two Portland officers fired multiple shots at the man Saturday night when he reached into his waistband and brandished a gun, police said.

With emotions running high soon after the shooting, members of the Sudanese community were demanding answers about what happened, said acting Police Chief Joe Loughlin. Loughlin said he has since met with members of Portland’s Sudanese community and talked with others by phone. Additional meetings were expected.

“I’m trying to keep everyone calm,” Loughlin said. “My appeal is to stay calm until we get all the facts.”

The killing was the second violent death of a Sudanese immigrant in seven months. In September, a Sudanese man was shot to death outside Mercy Hospital while on the job as a security guard. The case remains unsolved.

In the chaotic moments after the shooting, neighbors heatedly accused police of shooting when they didn’t have to.

There are an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 Sudanese refugees in Portland. Sara Epicho, general secretary of the Sudanese Community Association, said many in the community feel sad, angry and empty at the same time. Most of all, they want answers.

“This time the shooting was done by police,” she said. “And we haven’t gotten an exact picture of the situation. All of us are affected.”

At 7:35 p.m. Saturday, police were called to a six-unit apartment house after a 911 call reporting that there was a man who appeared to be intoxicated showing a handgun to a passer-by in front of the building.

Officers found a group of men in front of the apartment house when they arrived, and one of the men ran up some steps to the building’s front porch, police said. There, the man reached into his waistband and brandished a semiautomatic pistol, police said. Officers Benjamin Roper and Joshua Wiseman fired multiple shots, killing him.

Police said they would not release the victim’s name until they had a positive identification from an autopsy, which was being performed Monday. The Portland Press Herald said family members identified the victim as David Okot.

A person who answered the phone listed under the Okot name said the family had no immediate comment on the shooting, but might have a statement later in the week.

The Portland Police Department and the Maine Attorney General’s Office are investigating. The officers have been placed on paid administrative leave.

On Monday, a man swept and then poured bleach on the porch where the shooting occurred. Three bullet holes were visible in the side of the building. On a sidewalk nearby, candles and flowers were left to pay tribute to the victim.

Dozens of members of Portland’s Sudanese community held a memorial service Sunday night with singing and words of prayer, said Deborah Oliver, who lives across the street from the apartment building and participated in the service. She said people identified as the victim’s family members were sobbing.

“Their crying was so painful it made me cry,” Oliver said.

Another neighbor, Louri Henry, said she heard the shots Saturday night and then saw police drag the body down the front steps and place it on the sidewalk, where she said it stayed for hours while police investigated.

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