The entrance to the Portland Police Department garage on Newbury Street, where a drive-by shooting prompted official response from some, but not all, city councilors. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)
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Portland’s mayor and some city councilors publicly condemned a July 5 shooting that targeted the Police Department.

But the press release that was issued three days later only included statements of support from three councilors, which raised questions about whether other city councilors agreed with the sentiment or were intentionally excluded.

Mayor Kate Snyder later admitted she made a mistake by not including other councilors in her response to the apparent drive-by shooting at the Police Department garage on Newbury Street.

The release was signed by Snyder and Councilors Spencer Thibodeau, Belinda Ray, and Nick Mavodones. 

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder: “Lesson learned. The last thing we wanted was to cause confusion. The intent was to get something out there.”

Snyder issued the statement July 8, saying even as the city and nation work to dismantle “systemic racism” and ensuring police practices aren’t racist, it was important for residents not to “resort to violence.” She said as the country continues to reel from recent “horrific events,” she praised anyone who attended recent protests peacefully and spoke up about social justice issues.

“I am listening, and I pledge to work with my colleagues on the Council and people within the community to continue learning and implementing systems that reflect positive change,” Snyder said.

There was no indication why other councilors did not sign on to the statement, although Snyder later said it was because the city wanted to respond quickly. 

On Friday, two days later, Councilor Pious Ali held his own press conference to say violence doesn’t have a place in the community. He said he and his colleagues on the City Council and other city leaders will continue to work to make sure the police and city staff are safe.

Ali said he did not hear about the statement from the city until after it was out, and he was not the only one. 

“What I know is appropriate is for me to be out here and express and share where I stand to the city that I represent,” Ali said.

Ali has called for an independent investigation into police response to a June 1 protest, where dozens were arrested and police fired pepper spray into the crowds at various times. Police have maintained they were justified in their use of force, and that rogue protesters who were there specifically to foment unrest instigated any clashes between police and civilians.

“To the Portland Police Department, I want you to know my voice for change has nothing to do with supporting or not supporting you,” Ali said. “I do believe we are operating in a system that is embedded in oppressive and systemic racism, and so far as I remain an elected person in this city, I will dedicate my work to changing the system that we all operate in.”

Tensions between police departments and citizens across the country have been rising since the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis who died in police custody.

In the city statement, Thibodeau said any form of violence has no place in the community, and everyone has an obligation to call it out.

“As a policymaker, my job is to make certain that every member of our community is safe, including the men and women of our police department who put their lives on the line every day,” he said.

Mavodones said, “We must work together to effect the change we want to see in our community, but not at the expense of officers who show up every day to serve us.”

Ray said while this is a moment of high tension across the country, it’s not a reason to dehumanize each other, including police officers. She said violence against them is not acceptable.

“We are all complicit in our country’s horrendous history of racism,” Ray said, “and we must all work together to root out and eradicate it from our systems, policies, and institutions without doing further harm to one another.” 

City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said it was her understanding “the release was put together quickly and not all (councilors) were able to be included.” She referred additional questions to Snyder and the councilors.

In an interview Friday, Snyder said the city press release wasn’t an effort to exclude anyone or the result of councilors who didn’t want to participate. She said she was speaking with Mavodones, who is the mayor pro tem chair of the Finance Committee, on the day of the press release, and they agreed the city needed to put something out that day.

Snyder said she reached out to Thibodeau and Ray because they represent the Peninsula districts where the protests have happened, and she asked them to get in touch with Grondin if they wanted to issue a statement.

“There was no intent to leave anybody out,” Snyder said.

She said she did reach out later to other councilors in case they wanted to add something. But Snyder said since this wasn’t a press conference and she wasn’t writing the press release, there wasn’t great coordination, and she apologized for any confusion it may have caused.

“Lesson learned,” Snyder said. “The last thing we wanted was to cause confusion. The intent was to get something out there.”

On Friday, Councilor Kimberly Cook said she, like Ali, was surprised by the release and had not heard about it before she saw it.

“I was completely unaware it was in the works and was never given the opportunity to include a statement or asked whether the council should issue a statement,” Cook said.

She said City Manager Jon Jennings asked Snyder to make a statement, and Snyder subsequently asked the three councilors in the release to contribute.

City Councilor Justin Costa on Monday said he, too, was unaware a press release was being issued, but largely chalked it up as a simple mix up.

“In terms of press releases I think we just got our lines crossed in City Hall and so not every councilor was aware a release would be going out,” Costa said. “I certainly wasn’t.”

He said ultimately all councilors “certainly denounce violence against our police, or against anyone else.”

According to information provided by Portland Police Lt. Robert Martin, the shooting took place at 10:45 p.m. in the parking garage behind the police headquarters at 109 Middle St.  According to Martin, officers heard the sound of gunshots followed by the sound of a vehicle speeding away. Shell casings and bullet fragments were later found in the pavement on Newbury Street between the Cumberland County Courthouse and the parking garage.

Surveillance video captured a black sedan driving between Federal Street and Newbury Street as the shots were fired into the garage. One vehicle was struck; an officer who was in the garage was unharmed. The sedan continued south onto Pearl Street and then east on Middle Street where it passed the front of the police station before turning north on Franklin Street.

Police Chief Frank Clark said police are being targeted.

“As recently as last night, our officers were assaulted during the course of an arrest,” he said in a July 7 statement. “Over the past week or so, while responding to calls for service here in the city, officers have been targeted with mortar-type projectiles. This is senseless, dangerous, and unacceptable behavior and it must stop now before somebody is hurt.”  

Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to call the police at 207-874-8575.

Portland man charged in police garage shooting

Portland police on Monday said they arrested a man they believe fired shots into the Police Department garage on July 5.

Abdikareem Hassan, 32, of Portland, was stopped July 5 around 11:30 p.m. on Franklin Street near the garage, after police saw the vehicle he was driving strike a curb near the intersection with Cumberland Avenue. The vehicle was similar to the description of one sought in connection with the shooting that occurred that night at 10:42 p.m. The same vehicle was reported stolen earlier in the night, police said.

Initially, Hassan was charged with operating under the influence, operating after habitual offender, and unauthorized use of property.

But Hassan became “uncooperative” in custody according to a press release from Lt. Robert Martin, and allegedly assaulted a police officer and an FBI special agent, and damaged a police vehicle.

These actions resulted in Hassan being charged with assault on a police officer, two counts of refusal to submit to arrest or detention, and criminal mischief. He was also charged with a federal crime for allegedly assaulting a federal officer.

Hassan has been held at the Cumberland County Jail since his arrest.

According to Martin, Christine Adiye, 28, of Portland, was also in the vehicle at the time of the traffic stop. She was issued a summons for unauthorized use of property and was released.

On July 12, Martin said, Hassan was charged with additional crimes, based on further evidence: reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon, and illegal possession of a firearm by a prohibited person in connection with the July 5 shooting at the Police Department garage on Newbury Street.

Martin said the motive for the shooting is still unclear and remains under investigation.

Portland police received assistance from the FBI, Maine State Police and crime lab, Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office, the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Police Chief Frank Clark credited the community for its support after the shooting.

“This type of attack on law enforcement is disheartening and personal, but the overwhelming number of positive letters, social media posts, statements denouncing violence against the department, and the calls we have received reaffirm our belief that we have the support of our community,” Clark said.

— Colin Ellis