Christian MilNeil’s Portland home was visited on Tuesday morning by police who said they were there to issue a summons for criminal mischief. MilNeil denies the charge and believes he is being harassed for his Twitter posts criticizing the department and police in general. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

A Portland man believes that a series of critical tweets he made about the Portland Police Department – and policing in general – led two officers to his front door, where they tried to serve him with a summons for criminal mischief Tuesday morning and, according to his wife, threatened to take him away in handcuffs.

But a city spokeswoman said the police visit had nothing to do with the critical posts, and the police department said that he is suspected of writing graffiti on city buildings.

The whole episode played out live Tuesday morning in an unusual exchange on Twitter, the social media platform Christian MilNeil has been using to challenge police during the ongoing demonstrations in Portland and across the country.

“(I don’t know) if this is related to my recent tweets but #portlandme police are at my home now and threatening my arrest, they won’t say why,” MilNeil tweeted, posting a photo of the men in his front yard.

Both the city of Portland and the Portland Police Department soon weighed in with their own tweets, before a defense lawyer chimed in to give notice that they should “deal with me directly going forward, if we are going to be airing business via Twitter.”

City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said the damage was in the form of graffiti written on the two Bayside community policing substations. One substation is on Portland Street across from the Preble Street Resource Center. The other is housed in a Portland Housing Authority building on East Oxford Street.

Grondin said MilNeil’s criticism of police was not a factor in the summons, writing in a text message that “it’s not because of his tweets.”

No graffiti was visible on either of the police substations Tuesday.

The city of Portland and the police department, through their official Twitter accounts, posted publicly about the attempt to serve MilNeil, and retweeted his original message.

“MilNeil refused service,” The city tweeted. “Case is being submitted to DA’s office, but @PolicePortland is hopeful he’ll contact them to accept service prior to DA review.”

In one tweet posted as police were outside his home, MilNeil wrote: “They’re making it pretty clear they’re upset with my recent tweets.”

MilNeil edits Streets Blog Mass, a transit-focused blog and news website based in Boston, and is a former data journalist at the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. He also serves as a commissioner on the Portland Public Housing Authority board, and is a frequent advocate for public housing and public transit-focused planning initiatives.

In an interview Tuesday, MilNeil denied committing any illegal acts or writing graffiti.

“No,” he said, laughing at the suggestion. “I did not do that. The East Bayside police station is in the Bayside anchor, it’s a building I’m very proud of.”

After the city and the police department posted about the allegations on Twitter, Portland defense attorney Tina Nadeau joined the conversation and said she is representing MilNeil. She said Tuesday that she had no additional information about the case.

While they made the allegations public, the city and the police department have not responded to questions about what supporting evidence they have against MilNeil. They also have not indicated whether there is video of the alleged crime, and if there is video, whether they will release it. The police department also has not responded to a request to release the body camera footage of the interaction on MilNeil’s doorstep.

Portland police spokesman Lt. Robert Martin declined to answer basic questions about the alleged crime, including what day and time it occurred, and whether officers had video evidence that showed MilNeil breaking the law.

“You can ask the court for the report. We don’t release reports once the case is submitted for prosecution,” Martin said in an email Tuesday night after being asked if he could provide a report on the allegations that led to the summons for MilNeil.

Portland police decided to tweet about their attempt to serve the summons because of “the number of calls we were getting as a result of his post,” Martin said in his email.

District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck declined an interview about the case because it is still open.

The city could not say Wednesday how common it is for Portland police to issue criminal mischief summonses, whether for graffiti or others reasons. During the protests last week, however, three other people, one adult and two juveniles, were issued summonses for alleged graffiti, the city said.

One of those people, a 20-year-old woman, was handed a summons last Wednesday by police officers who allegedly saw her writing graffiti on the plaza at 100 Middle St. during a protest, police said at the time. It wasn’t clear if the others were allegedly caught in the act, or tracked down afterward based on other evidence.

Grondin said it is regular practice for police to issue a summons in person. “Yes, it’s the only way to serve them,” she said. “(A) summons is used for misdemeanor crimes … all the time. Theft cases and assaults. Traffic offenses, too.”

MilNeil and his wife said they believe the department is trying to intimidate them, and said the experience was a terrifying reminder of police abuse of power. During the interaction at their home, Jessica MilNeil spoke with police while her husband said he stayed inside, upstairs with their children.

“The uniformed guy said, ‘I know for a fact you have your preconceived notions about police,'” Jessica MilNeil said. “And I was like, what do you mean? What do you know about me?”

Milneil said things clicked when his wife related the exchange regarding preconceived notions about police. “Oh,” he recalled thinking. “That’s what this is about. Because I’ve been on Twitter and emailing neighbors and city councilors about defunding the police department. It’s really hard for me to see this as a coincidence. I tweet pretty mild criticism of the police department and then they show up at my door threatening to take away my freedom.”

On Monday, MilNeil tweeted about how the town of Standish, where he grew up, disbanded its police in favor of coverage from the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, which patrols dozens of communities that are too small to have their own forces.

On June 1, as police and protesters faced off outside the police station on Franklin Street, MilNeil tweeted about Portland police Lt. Nicholas Goodman, who shot and killed Chance David Baker in 2017 after Baker was seen wielding an air-powered pellet gun in a retail center parking lot. MilNeil reminded his followers that Goodman had killed a man before, in 2008, saying Goodman “escalated a traffic stop.”

Jessica MilNeil said one officer told her that if her husband did not come talk to them, they would come back with a warrant for his arrest. They also threatened to search their home, Jessica MilNeil said. One officer threatened to arrest Christian MilNeil if police saw him outside in his neighborhood, she said.

Christian MilNeil said he attended two demonstrations last week, along with thousands of other people. One demonstration he attended alone, but was home in time for dinner. The other demonstration he attended with his wife and two small children, but the family could not stay long because their kids were uncomfortable in the heat.

The interaction at his doorstep began when Jessica MilNeil returned from a car service appointment and found two officers at their home. When his wife told him police were outside looking for him, MilNeil said he at first thought she was mistaken.

“At first I didn’t believe her,” he said. “But she was visibly shaking and pretty upset about it. And I looked out the window and sure enough, there were two cops in our yard.”

MilNeil tweeted what he saw: A uniformed officer and a man in khakis and brown dress shoes, standing at his front stoop.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy contributed to this report.


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