The grandmother and mother of a Portland man who was shot and killed by a Portland police officer more than two years ago have filed a civil rights and wrongful death action against the officer and the local pawn shop that sold the man an air rifle BB gun.

Chance David Baker

In the Superior Court filing, Chance David Baker’s grandmother, Terry R. Baker, and his mother, Shantel L. Baker, ask for an unspecified amount of damages.

The case could be heard in federal court after the attorney for Portland police Sgt. Nicholas Goodman petitioned the court on Monday to move the matter to U.S. District Court.

Baker was 22 when Goodman shot and killed him outside the Union Station Plaza on Feb. 18, 2017. At the time, Baker was armed with a non-lethal air rifle in the parking lot of the shopping plaza on St. John Street. The BB gun fired pellets.

About a year later, the Maine Attorney General’s Office, which investigates all police-involved shootings, ruled that the shooting was justified. The Attorney General’s Office concluded that Goodman had reason to believe that Baker was about to use deadly force against him and other officers.

Goodman was involved in a previous use deadly force in May 2008, when he shot and killed a 48-year-old man who was trying to evade arrest by driving away with Goodman hanging half in and half out of the front window of his car. The attorney general also ruled that shooting was justified.

According to court records, Baker’s family hired Bangor Attorney Hunter Tzovarras, who filed the suit in Cumberland County Superior Court in February. On Monday, Goodman’s attorney, John J. Wall III of Portland, filed a petition – called a notice of removal – asking that the case be heard in U.S. District Court instead.

In his court filing, Wall said that the matter should be handled by a federal court because the wrongful death suit alleges that Chance Baker’s rights were violated under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Since the wrongful death lawsuit alleges that the Bakers are seeking damages for violation of a federal law, Wall argues that the matter should be resolved by a federal judge.

Wall could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Also named in the wrongful death action is the Coastal Pawn Shop, which is located at Union Station Plaza. Nancy Kelly of Boston is named in court documents as being the pawn shop’s attorney. She could not be reached for comment.

A phone message left with Baker’s mother in Iowa was not returned Wednesday evening.

In the civil rights and wrongful death action filed by Tzovarras, the Bangor attorney alleges that Coastal Pawn Shop and John Doe (the identity of the person who sold Baker the air rifle is not known) “were negligent in selling Mr. Baker an air rifle while he was noticeably intoxicated and suffering from a mental health breakdown.”

Tzovarras alleges that the pawn shop employees knew that Baker was intoxicated based on his movements, the odor of intoxicants and his speech. Despite his impaired state, the shop sold Baker an air rifle.

Baker was shot and killed by Goodman on a sidewalk near a Subway sandwich shop at Union Station Plaza after Baker, who was yelling and causing a disturbance, refused commands to not pick up the air rifle, which he had placed on the ground. When Baker bent down to pick the rifle up, he ended up in a crouched position, Tzovarras said.

According to the court filing, Goodman fired a single shot from roughly 105 feet away that struck Baker in the head. Baker was transported to Maine Medical Center where he died.

“Sgt. Goodman knew or reasonably should have known, Chance was holding a BB gun at the time deadly force was used,” Tzovarras wrote in his filing.

Among the claims for relief is the allegation that Goodman violated Chance Baker’s right under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to be free from the use of excessive and and unreasonable force. The suit also says that the pawnshop should have been aware that Baker’s actions outside the Union Station Plaza had prompted the police presence and should have attempted to notify authorities that he had a non-lethal weapon.

“John Doe and Coastal Pawn Shop never took any steps to contact the Portland Police Department or any law enforcement agency to inform them that Mr. Baker had purchased an air rifle from Coastal Pawn Shop and was not armed with a real firearm,” the lawsuit states.

Police may use deadly force if they have an actual, reasonable belief that deadly force is being threatened against them or someone else, and that using deadly force is necessary to counter the imminent threat.

The Attorney General’s Office investigates all uses of deadly force by law enforcement officers. The judgment is based on the totality of the circumstances, from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene.

Since 1990, the Attorney General’s Office has investigated more than 150 police-involved shootings in Maine, and it has never found any of them to be unjustified.

In the suit, Baker’s grandmother and mother seek compensatory damages, attorney fees, and whatever other costs the court finds appropriate under Maine’s Wrongful Death Statute.

A trial date has not been scheduled, and it was not clear on Wednesday whether the wrongful death lawsuit would be heard in Superior Court or federal court.

 

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