PORTLAND, Maine — A man shot by a Portland police officer in the shoulder and neck two years ago while driving away from the scene of a reported burglary is now suing the city, its former police chief and the officer, alleging that the shooting was a case of excessive force.
Attorney Michael Waxman, representing Jonathan Mitchell, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court Tuesday naming as defendants the city, former Police Chief James Craig and Officer Robert Miller. Mitchell is seeking “an amount that fully and completely compensates him for the injuries he sustained,” as well as attorney’s fees and punitive damages, according to the suit.
Current Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said in an email Tuesday night the department has no comment on the lawsuit.
The legal claim is tied to an April 10, 2011, incident in which Miller and another officer responded to an early morning report by Mitchell’s estranged wife that he had broken into her Allen Avenue apartment, police said at the time.
According to the lawsuit, Mitchell’s vehicle was subsequently pulled over on Fairfield Street by the responding officers, but he refused to exit his vehicle when asked to, and instead began to drive away. That’s when Officer Miller fired two shots at the departing suspect, both the lawsuit and police accounts from the time state.
Mitchell was found soon after at a friend’s apartment, arrested and transported to the hospital for treatment.
“Officer Robert Miller discharged two bullets from his gun, one traveling through Mr. Mitchell’s shoulder, and one entering his throat, and shattering his hyoid bone, permanently disfiguring and impairing Mr. Mitchell, and very nearly killing him,” the lawsuit reads, in part, adding, “Officer Mitchell applied force against Mr. Mitchell maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm, which harm he did indeed cause, and for which this lawsuit seeks to hold him and others accountable.”
At the time of the incident, Police Chief Craig told reporters the responding officers interpreted Mitchell’s actions as using “his vehicle as a dangerous weapon in an attempt to escape.”
Mitchell publicly disputed that account in the aftermath of the shooting and made headlines when his attorneys created a website on which police video of the shooting was posted. That website is no longer active.
Mitchell reiterated his case in Tuesday’s lawsuit.
“At no time did Mr. Mitchell make threatening statements to either officer,” the court document reads, in part. “At the time Officer Miller fired his weapon, Mr. Mitchell was not engaged in any act that created a threat of immediate harm to Officer Miller, [the other responding officer] or anyone else.”
Mitchell ultimately pleaded guilty to charges of refusing to submit to arrest, failure to stop for an officer and being a habitual offender for his role in the incident. He was sentenced to nine months and one day in jail for the crimes, plus an additional nine months for violating his probation.
Two counts of reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon, being the car, and one count of criminal trespassing were dropped in accordance with a plea agreement reached with prosecutors at the time.