AUGUSTA — City police officers have not been required to carry stun guns while on duty but they will be, the police chief said this week.

The comment from Police Chief Jared Mills came during a City Council meeting Thursday night, during a wide-ranging discussion about policing policies including the use of lethal force, the use of stun guns and body cameras, and mental health training for officers. The policy talk was prompted by questions from a friend of the man killed by police while brandishing a knife at the Bread of Life Shelter last year.

Bobby Jo Bechard, a friend of the late Dustin Paradis, who was shot and killed by police in an armed confrontation at the Bread of Life Shelter Oct. 13, 2021, asked city officials numerous questions recently. Mills responded to those questions at a council meeting Thursday, prompting an extensive discussion of policing in Augusta.

Paradis had Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, according to his mother.

One of the questions asked by Bechard — who is program manager at the LINC Center, a recovery and vocational center in Augusta offering peer counseling, where Paradis came to visit almost every day — was why stun guns aren’t used by police when confronting someone who, like Paradis, had a knife.

Mills said Thursday that the city’s police department has enough stun guns for each officer on a shift to carry one, though officers are not currently required to carry one. Asked by councilors Thursday to consider making carrying them mandatory, Mills said going forward officers would be required to carry a stun gun.


He said Friday, in a follow-up interview, that neither of the two officers directly involved in the shooting death of Paradis had stun guns on them that night. He said an internal “critical incident review” of that event recommended that stun guns be carried by all officers.

Dustin J. Paradis is seen holding a knife in a video image taken inside the Bread of Life Shelter in Augusta. The image comes moments before Paradis steps toward two police officers, who repeatedly asked Paradis to drop the knife, before he was shot and killed by them. Video screenshot

However, Mills stressed that review of the incident did not determine that stun guns should have been used in that case. He said the review indicated stun guns or other means of non-lethal force would not have been the appropriate response by police, to what he described as the deadly threat posed by Paradis.

He said for police faced with a serious, imminent deadly threat, the proper response is deadly force, as was used by Officer Sabastian Guptill and Sgt. Christopher Blodgett, who both fired their pistols at Paradis.

At-Large Councilor Abigail St. Valle asked that the department require officers to carry stun guns, which are also commonly called Tasers because of the well-known stun gun product.

“If the choice is firearm or Taser, the choice of Taser would be better,” she said.

Bechard said her goal in raising questions following the incident was to avoid it being repeated with others in similar situations as Paradis.


“If there is any way to call attention to this to get as much mental health support, or whatever else officers need, so this doesn’t happen again,” she said of her goal. “I don’t know what that looks like, but I hope and pray it doesn’t happen again.”

Mills said the key to prevent future similar tragedies is to make investments in improving the mental health system, so people in crisis can get the help they need before a situation escalates into police needing to be involved. He said the mental health system is not operating as it should be, due to deficiencies in the system as well as, now, vacancies in the system as it, too, deals with the recent difficulty in finding workers.

“If we can avoid this from coming to this point from the beginning is where we really need to work,” Mills said. “We really need to make a significant investment in our mental health capacities. The entire mental health system is not working. Something like this particular tragedy that happened, the only thing that’s going to prevent that is the work done beforehand, to not have that happen. We need to have the capacity to help folks when they have mental health needs.”

In recent years Augusta police have worked with a mental health intensive case manager funded by the state Office of Behavioral Health. For a long time that manager was the much-praised Greg Smith. Smith was on the job the night police had the armed confrontation with Paradis, but, Mills said, the incident escalated so quickly that Smith didn’t have time to get to the scene before the shooting occurred.

However, Smith left the job to move into child protective services around December and so far state officials have not been able to fill the position.

While Augusta does have a Crisis and Counseling worker available to respond to calls through the state’s OPTIONs program, her role is targeted at helping people with substance use disorder, and Mills said the loss of Smith was significant and it is important the position be filled so a mental health worker can be available to respond to incidents involving people in mental health crisis. But even if and when that 40-hour per week position is filled, it would still leave large gaps of time with no mental health worker poised to respond.


Asked by At-Large Councilor Courtney Allen what it would take to have 24-hour coverage, Mills said that would require six workers, who, at a salary of $44,000 each, would cost $264,000 per year, not including benefits.

Asked how many Augusta officers undergo training for crisis intervention or other mental health-related training, Mills said 40 of 44 officers have undergone one or more level of advanced training. He said 82% of officers have taken 40 hours each of crisis intervention training, but the department, until recent staff retirements and departures, used to have 100%. He said state law requires 20% of a department’s officers to be so trained.

In response to councilors asking about body cameras, Mills said officers do not have them, instead using cameras in their cars and devices on their bodies that record audio. He said he would support equipping officers with them but said he’s so far been unable to find grant funding to cover the $250,000 to $300,000 cost to purchase and maintain them.

An internal Augusta police investigation into the shooting of Paradis determined no corrective or disciplinary action should be taken against Guptill or Blodgett and the pair returned to duty in November of last year.

An investigation into the shooting by the state Office of the Attorney General is still underway. The AG’s office investigates all police shootings in Maine.

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