PORTLAND, Maine — In his first public statements since a Portland police officer fatally shot a man on Saturday, Police Chief Michael Sauschuck lashed out at body camera proponents — including Mayor Ethan Strimling — for “politicizing” a 22-year-old man’s death to push police into fast-tracking the technology.
Sauschuck said that police wearing the cameras would have made no difference in the series of events on Saturday that led Sgt. Nicholas Goodman to shoot Chance David Baker, as he brandished what turned out to be a rifle-style pellet gun. And he chastised “individuals and organizations” for using the shooting to “drag the Portland Police Department into some kind of a national debate about body cameras.”
“I’m saddened. I’m disappointed. And I am disgusted by any use of a tragedy to further some kind of political agenda around body cameras,” he said.
Sauschuck said he favors body cameras and the police department has been reviewing other departments’ policies for their use and looking for grants that might fund a pilot program.
Following the shooting the ACLU of Maine and Progressive Portland, a local activist group, urged the police force to move up its scheduled adoption of body cameras.
“If the incident had been recorded by police body cameras, we wouldn’t be so dependent on inconsistent eyewitness accounts,” Progressive Portland wrote in an email on Sunday. “In the wake of this tragedy, the city should move that timeline up and include the purchase of body cameras in this year’s budget.”
The city had already earmarked $400,000 of the fiscal 2019 budget for a pilot body camera program. The mayor called for the city to fast-track it for next year at a city council committee meeting two days before the shooting. But in a Monday interview with BDN Portland, the mayor did not tie his position on body cameras to the shooting.
“I have advocated for body cameras because it is good policy that injects a higher level of transparency into our policing and builds trust in the community,” Strimling said on Tuesday. “I know emotions are high right now, but I look forward to working with the chief, the council and the community to bring this vital technology to our city.”
Following Sauschuck’s comments Tuesday, Progressive Portland repeated its call to implement body cameras this year and the ACLU fired back, saying that cases like Baker’s shooting show that adopting the devices is vital.
“Body cameras aren’t political — they’re good policy,” said ACLU spokeswoman Rachel Healy.
In criticizing what he characterized as the use of Baker’s death to push local police to get the technology sooner, Sauschuck also revealed new details about the shooting on St. John Street.
Sgt. Goodman shot Baker with a “long gun” from a distance of about 100 feet while the officer was sheltered behind a car, the police chief said. The Portland Press Herald has reported witnesses saying that Baker was shot in the forehead, and while he declined to say where or how many times Baker was hit, Sauschuck was blunt in explaining police policy around the use of fatal force.
“There is no such thing as ‘we’re going to shoot the gun out of their hand or shoot them in the thigh,’” said Sauschuck. “I’m not training them to, nor do our policies and procedures state that they should wound somebody. They are trying to hit this individual in a lethal location.”
The police chief also said his officers are sufficiently trained in how and when to try to defuse a dangerous situation, noting that Portland’s force is one of only a small handful of departments nationally that train other police in de-escalation tactics.
Goodman is on administrative leave, which is standard procedure, pending investigations by the attorney general’s office and the Portland Police Department.