Edward C. Hyman, 42, of New York City spent last Friday night sleeping on a piece of cardboard outside the Preble Street Resource Center’s soup kitchen. In the early morning he encountered a Portland police officer, who shot him, leaving him hospitalized.

The story of what led to the incident remains murky, mostly pieced together from others who were sleeping near Hyman on the street. Portland police have offered few details of the first shooting by a Portland police officer since Sgt. Nicholas Goodman killed “Chance” David Baker in 2017. Goodman was cleared of wrongdoing in the shooting.

Police have said that Officer Nevin Rand was responding to a burglary and that witnesses pointed to Hyman as the suspect. They have said he was trying to talk to Hyman at the time of the shooting, which was 5:24 a.m. They have said that when Hyman is released from the hospital he will face two misdemeanor charges of criminal threatening and resisting arrest.

But they have not pinpointed the site of the shooting or said whether a burglary actually occurred or indicated in what way Hyman might have threatened Rand, who has been on the force since 2018 and is on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.

At a time of heightened scrutiny of police conduct, Portland police have declined to answer even the most basic questions about the case, the alleged burglary or Hyman. Interim Chief Heath Gorham has said more information will be released at a time deemed appropriate. The Maine Attorney General’s Office, which investigates all police-involved shootings in the state, also has declined to answer questions.

On Oxford Street, where the shooting occurred, a man who said he slept next to Hyman that night and had befriended him in recent weeks had more details to offer.

He said Hyman was a new face in East Bayside, where unhoused people from Portland and all over Maine often congregate.

WAKING UP TO A COMMOTION

Richard McDowell, 41, said he spent Friday night on a discarded couch next to Hyman, who was depressed and nearly inconsolable.

McDowell’s first memory of Saturday morning, he said, was waking up to a commotion and hearing people say that someone had broken into the resource center.

Then McDowell said he heard police confront Hyman.

“They told him to get up and approach them, and as he was approaching them, they told him to take his hands out of his pockets,” said McDowell, who said he heard but did not see the encounter because his face was under a blanket at the time. He said police gave the order repeatedly.

Then he heard three shots, he said. The gunfire was frightening.

“It was so close I was under the blanket going, ‘Please God, I hope those bullets don’t hit me,'” said McDowell, who was also interviewed by police. “After that I heard a whole bunch of commotion trying to get him to the ground. And then the ambulance came and took him away.”

Hyman said he does not know why Hyman apparently did not want to take his hands out of his pockets, but suspected that he did not want to be caught with drugs.

His new acquaintance, he said, had become increasingly despondent and hopeless. He had started using drugs to cope with his unraveling life. He had recently lost his car, which was his livelihood, McDowell said.

DESPONDENT AND HOPELESS

Police records show Hyman crashed his red 2017 Mitsubishi into a guardrail in Auburn on Thursday, two days before he was shot. The state trooper who responded to the crash found a hypodermic needle on the ground near the vehicle and suspected Hyman may have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol. His vehicle, disabled by the crash, was towed away, and a blood test is pending.

But it does not appear that Hyman was arrested in that crash. He has no criminal history in Maine and no pending criminal charges, according to the State Bureau of Identification.

McDowell said he left the shooting scene sometime after the shooting. When he returned later that morning, he found orange spray paint on the asphalt marking where Hyman, and the officer’s shell cases, had fallen.

McDowell said he used Coca-Cola to get the stain of Hyman’s blood off the pavement.

Since the shooting, rumors have been circulating among the small community of people who live in the shelter or on its surrounding streets. One woman, who did not give her name, said Tuesday that Hyman had two weapons. McDowell said he’d never seen Hyman be violent or carry a gun or knife – but he’d seen that his life was coming apart.

“It wasn’t as if he felt life had no meaning to it, but he was on the verge,” McDowell said. “He was on a knife’s edge.”

On Tuesday, Hyman’s condition was listed as stable, Portland police Capt. Robert Martin said.

Upon release from Maine Medical Center, he will likely face charges.

When the attorney general’s investigation into Rand’s actions is complete, more information from the incident, including video and audio recordings, reports and witness statements, may become public record. But that moment could be years away. To date, no shooting by Maine police has resulted in criminal charges. Using the nationwide legal standard, every such shooting has been determined to be legally justified.

State investigators have a backlog of 19 police shooting investigations dating to 2018, including eight cases from 2021. Maine officers often are permitted to return to duty long before the attorney general determines whether their shootings were legally justified.

POLICE SHOOTINGS RARE IN PORTLAND

Shootings by Portland police are rare.

The last to be shot was “Chance” David Baker, who was killed in February 2017 in the parking lot of a busy shopping center. Baker was wielding a rifle-style pellet gun, and police say Baker pointed the the realistic looking weapon toward officers. His shooting by Goodman was found to be justified in March 2018.

Baker’s killing led to a call by Portland’s mayor to speed up the implementation of a body-worn camera program in Portland, a years-long project that was completed in 2019. Now, most interactions between Portland officers and the public are recorded on audio and video. Police haven’t said whether Rand’s camera was on and working during the shooting this weekend. It was unclear if Rand was alone when he interacted with Hyman, or if other officers were nearby when the confrontation unfolded.

Rand received two commendations in 2019 for his performance responding to an armed robbery call and when a man barricaded himself in an apartment and set it ablaze, according to a city report.

The use of deadly force by anyone in Maine, including police, is permissible only in self-defense or in the defense of others and only under two conditions. First, the person who uses deadly force  must reasonably believe that he or she – or someone else – faces an imminent deadly threat. Second, the person must believe that deadly force is necessary to counter the imminent threat.

To determine whether a police officer’s use of deadly force is justified, the attorney general’s office examines the totality of the circumstances and judges an officer’s actions from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene – a legal standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark 1989 ruling.

BODY CAMERAS NOW A FACTOR

While it has become standard practice in Maine to release only the barest of details when an officer shoots someone, other departments around the country have begun to release body camera footage and other records in a timely fashion.

In April, for instance, a Chicago police officer shot and killed Adam Toledo, 13, as Toledo fled down a dark alley. The officer fired his weapon as Toledo turned toward him and put up his hands. Police, originally called to investigate gunfire, found a weapon near where Toledo stopped running.

Chicago has a robust citizen-led oversight structure for its police department that investigates officer-involved shootings. Within a matter of weeks, the body-worn camera footage was released to the public, giving journalists and public officials a deeper understanding of the facts of the controversial case. The release was well before a city-mandated 60-day deadline to release such video when police use force.

The video illustrated the split-second decisions that officers are forced to make in the face of possible threats to their life. Toledo’s killing remains under investigation.

On Tuesday morning, Portland police and city workers cleared out the makeshift encampment on a narrow strip of grass where Hyman, McDowell and others slept, throwing their blankets, shopping carts and other items into a garbage truck.

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