Someone fired gunshots early Saturday morning outside Portland City Hall, where a group of protesters has been camped out for more than a week to draw attention to homelessness.

Police Chief Frank Clark said in a statement that the incident is a further reminder that the current situation is untenable and said “prompt steps” need to be taken to improve safety.

Portland Police Chief Frank Clark speaks during a press conference at City Hall on June 3. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“Homelessness is a statewide problem that requires a collaborative response,” he said. “The city manager and I both believe that the situation as it exists in City Hall Plaza, however, is unacceptable in terms of public health, public safety and continuity of municipal operations.

“Officers have and will continue to respond to the encampment to address reported drug use, overdoses, indecent conduct, fights and other criminal and violent behavior that now includes gunfire.”

The shots were preceded, police said, by an altercation between some protesters and a driver who had stopped his car on Congress Street in front of City Hall shortly before 5 a.m. No one was injured.

Witnesses told police they saw a black vehicle driving east on Congress while filming the protest encampment before making a U-turn and parking near Market Street. A protester threw a “firework” that exploded near the vehicle, police said, and was walking back to the encampment when the driver fired several rounds from a handgun. There were about 30 protesters present.

After firing shots, the driver made another U-turn and drove away, east on Congress. The shooter was described as a white male in his 30s with “an athletic build and facial hair.”

Two protesters were charged with interfering with officers who had responded to investigate. Nicholas Closson, 38, and Jacob Jensen, 31, both of Portland, were charged with obstructing government administration.

A press release from the police department did not describe what the two men are alleged to have done, but Clark’s statement indicated that some protesters have “surrounded and attempted to physically block first responders from both police and MedCU.” Police spokesman Lt. Robert Martin was not available Saturday to provide more information.

Portland police are asking anyone with information about the incident to call 874-8575.

Protesters have been camping out at City Hall since July 22 to call attention to the need for more affordable housing options in Maine’s largest city. Others have been camping out in Deering Oaks. The coronavirus pandemic has worsened things, but there have long been concerns that housing prices in Portland have driven away all but the wealthy.

The city is currently operating three overnight shelters and housing as many as 200 people in hotels. A day shelter operated by the nonprofit Preble Street was closed recently because of coronavirus risks. That closure, along with restrictions at the city’s library and other public spaces, has left those without homes seeking other places to go.

As the protest has continued for several nights, some officials have been concerned about safety. On Monday, City Hall was closed and municipal workers resumed working from home, as they did at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. City Manager Jon Jennings said those in the encampment are not wearing masks or practicing social distancing and that puts city workers, many of whom had resumed working in the building, at risk.

Tent-Out Portland organizers, however, have said they are staying put and have called on the city to decriminalize camping out, defund the police and reallocate money for social services.

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder held a listening session with several individuals on Wednesday and pledged to keep working with protesters on solutions.


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