Attorney General Finds Portland Police Officers Acted in Self-Defense
October 16, 2009
AUGUSTA - Attorney General Janet T. Mills has concluded that Portland police officers Benjamin Roper and Joshua Wiseman acted in self-defense when they fatally shot David O. Okot, age 26, the evening of April 25, 2009, outside an apartment building on Weymouth Street in Portland.
The Attorney General is charged by law with investigating any law enforcement officer who, while acting in the performance of that officer's duties, uses deadly force. The function of the Attorney General’s investigation is to determine whether self-defense or defense of others, as defined in the Maine Criminal Code, is reasonably generated on the facts so as to preclude criminal prosecution. The review does not include whether there might be any civil liability, whether any administrative action is warranted, or whether the use of deadly force may have been avoidable.
Under Maine law, for an individual to be justified in using deadly force for self-defense or the defense of others, two requirements must be met: First, the individual must reasonably believe that deadly force is imminently threatened against the individual or against someone else and, second, the individual must reasonably believe that deadly force is necessary to counter that imminent threat.
The Attorney General’s investigation concluded that Officers Roper and Wiseman reasonably believed that deadly force was imminently threatened by Mr. Okot against them. Further, Attorney General Mills concluded that both officers reasonably believed it was necessary to use deadly force to protect them from that imminent threat.
The Attorney General reported the following findings from the investigation:
On Saturday, April 25, 2009, at 7:37 p.m., the Portland Emergency Communications Center received a cellular telephone call from a resident who reported that he had just seen a man displaying a handgun in the area of Weymouth and Grant Streets in Portland. He said the man was carrying the gun in his waistband and that he had pulled his shirt up to show him the gun. He described the gun as a silver-colored 9mm or .45 caliber handgun. The caller described the man as an intoxicated black male who was wearing a white tee shirt, jeans, a white hooded sweatshirt, and a blue baseball cap.
When the report was broadcast by dispatch, Portland police officers Benjamin Roper and Joshua Wiseman were close to the area of Weymouth and Grant Streets. Both were in uniform and patrolling together in a marked police cruiser. The cruiser was equipped with a video camera. About two minutes after receiving the report, the officers drove onto Weymouth Street from Park Avenue, where both immediately observed a black male who fit the description in the broadcast. The man was standing on the sidewalk close to another person. It appeared to the officers that the two men were together. The black male, whom the officers did not know, was later identified as David O. Okot. The officers observed no other persons in the immediate area. Both officers focused on Okot because he matched the description of the man with the gun.
Upon sighting the cruiser coming up the street, Okot quickened his pace while the second man walked off in another direction. The officers got out of their cruiser in front of a multi-unit apartment building at 5 Weymouth Street and told Okot they needed to speak with him. Okot ran up the stairs to the front entrance to 5 Weymouth Street and tried to open the door to the apartment building, but the door was locked. Reacting to Okot’s rapid flight and the belief that he was armed, the officers, then situated at the bottom of the stairs, trained their service weapons on Okot, and ordered him to “show your hands.”
Okot refused, telling the officers that he had done nothing wrong. A second man on the small porch appeared to the officers to be an associate of Okot and they viewed him as a potential threat. Officers Roper and Wiseman kept ordering Okot to “show your hands.” Okot refused the commands, instead responding angrily more than once “F--- you!” and telling the officers he would not show his hands. Officer Wiseman stepped in front of Officer Roper onto a bottom step while continuing to order Okot to “show your hands.” Okot continued to refuse and paced back and forth on the landing, carrying a cellular telephone in his left hand. The officers were unable to see what Okot was doing with his right hand but observed that he kept moving his hands to the waistband of his pants.
Another Portland police officer, Nicholas Goodman, arrived on the scene and observed Officers Roper and Wiseman shouting commands to Okot to “show your hands.” Officer Goodman focused on the second man standing on the landing and ordered this second man to “show your hands.” While it appeared to Officer Goodman that this man was trying to comply, it also appeared to him that the man was preparing to jump off the landing.
The officers saw Okot lower his left shoulder forward while pulling the right side of his body back, a position commonly referred to as a “fighter’s stance.” As Okot turned away from the officers and moved his right hand under his sweatshirt near his waistband, both officers believed that Okot was reaching for a gun. While Officer Roper saw movement consistent with pulling out a gun, his view was partially blocked by Officer Wiseman in front of him on the stairs and he did not actually see a gun. Officer Wiseman, however, who was closer to Okot, saw a gun in Okot’s right hand at hip level pointed at him when Okot pulled his hand out from under his clothing. Both officers fired their weapons; Okot was struck several times and fell to the landing. Officer Wiseman said that he saw Okot’s gun being “tossed” behind Okot. It is not known if Okot intentionally threw the gun or if the impact from being shot caused the gun to be thrown. About three minutes had elapsed since the arrival of Officers Roper and Wiseman at 5 Weymouth Street.
Officer Goodman confirmed that he saw Okot turn toward Officers Wiseman and Roper with a gun in his hand. Officer Goodman contemplated at that moment firing his own weapon at Okot, but doing so from his position placed others at risk of being struck. All the officers at that point were still concerned with potential threats from others. Officer Goodman and a fourth officer who arrived at the scene took the second man on the landing into custody as he jumped from the landing. Officer Goodman had observed an unidentified man just inside the door to the apartment building, who disappeared from view as soon as Officer Goodman made eye contact with him. Concerned about a potential threat from inside the building, two other officers carried Okot off the landing to a location a short ways up the sidewalk where he could be attended by emergency medical personnel. Unfortunately, Okot died at the scene.
Okot’s weapon, a .22 caliber semi-automatic pistol, was recovered at the scene about 67 feet from the porch landing of 5 Weymouth Street. Weymouth Street has a considerable downward slope in the immediate area of the incident. The gun bore damage consistent with it scraping against a rough surface such as street pavement. Later testing of the gun included the discovery of a DNA profile consistent with Okot’s DNA profile.
A postmortem toxicology determined that Okot’s blood alcohol concentration was 0.266%. The report also disclosed the presence of cocaine in Okot’s blood. There was cocaine found in Mr. Okot’s right rear pocket.
Detectives from the Attorney General’s Office went to the scene of the shooting to conduct an investigation, as did Dr. Margaret Greenwald, the state’s chief medical examiner. The investigation also included extensive review of a video recording made by a camera inside the cruiser used by Officers Roper and Wiseman. The Portland Police Department cooperated fully with the investigation and conducted its own internal review of the incident.
1 Later investigation, which included a complete neighborhood canvass and interviews with various residents, disclosed little to no pedestrian traffic in the immediate area around the same time as the incident. Some residents reported hearing gunshots, but only one – a man on the porch landing with Okot – fully witnessed the encounter between Okot and the police officers. It was later determined that this second man was not an associate of Okot, but rather someone whom Okot had approached and to whom Okot had shown a gun in his waistband that he offered to sell him. The man was interviewed and provided an account of the encounter between Okot and the officers that was consistent with those of the officers.
2 Later attempts to identify and interview this person were not successful.
CONTACT: Kate Simmons(207) 626-8577