Tuesday June 12, 2018
The Portland Police Department’s first Somali police officer resigned Sunday before the department could complete an internal affairs investigation prompted by her arrest at a Massachusetts nightclub in January.
Zahra M. Abu, 25, of Portland had been on paid administrative leave since she was charged by Worcester police with assault and battery, resisting arrest, trespassing, disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace on Jan. 13.
The charges stem from alleged conduct inside the Palladium, a music venue where Abu was attending a concert by Ja Rule and Ashanti.
Abu pleaded not guilty to the charges. She has remained free on personal recognizance and was ordered to stay away from the Palladium.
Meanwhile, Portland police said they were conducting an internal review of the incident. In announcing the resignation, city officials declined to offer any details of what the internal review found.
“Zahra Abu voluntarily resigned from the Portland Police Department on June 10 prior to the completion of the police department’s Internal Affairs investigation,” wrote Jessica Grondin, spokeswoman for the city. “As this is a confidential personnel matter, no additional information can or will be released.”
A message left for Abu with a relative was not returned. Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck also did not respond to questions about Abu’s resignation.
In a report filed in court, Worcester police said the 5-foot-2, 130-pound officer was acting aggressively toward concert hall staff and pushed her way through the crowd, “physically assaulting several customers.” Told by security and police that her behavior was unacceptable and she was “no longer welcome on the property,” Abu was asked to leave “two to three dozen times,” according to the report.
Worcester police Officer Christopher Grilli wrote that after being told she was under arrest, Abu “tensed her body and tried to pull away from us in an effort to evade arrest. She squirmed around and tried to free herself from the handcuffs.”
The report alleges that Abu swore at police, questioned their training and time in service and “refused to cease her profanity-laced comments toward staff.”
Outside, as officers waited for a patrol wagon to take Abu to police headquarters, she moved toward another patron and said, “They’re racial profiling, I see you there, girl,” according to court documents.
Abu gained widespread media and community attention two years ago when she became the first member of Maine’s Somali community to be sworn in as a police officer.
Abu was born in Kenya, where her Somali-born parents were living in a refugee camp, and moved to Maine when she was 2 years old.
She attended college and studied criminal justice and women-and-gender issues at the University of Southern Maine before joining the Portland Police Department in 2016.
Despite Abu’s resignation, she could still face discipline from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy board of trustees, the group that confers the license required to be a police officer in Maine.
Under state statute, there are a host of circumstances that require a police officer’s employing agency to report conduct to the board for review and possible sanctions, including convictions on a bevy of crimes.
The board also reviews cases in which there is no conviction but an officer is found to have engaged in conduct that would be criminal, such as when an internal investigation by a department results in a finding of fact but there is no corresponding criminal case.
Academy executive director John Rogers said he received the internal affairs investigation regarding Abu from the Portland police chief on Monday, and will forward it to a subcommittee of three trustee members who will conduct a preliminary review of the case and eventually make a recommendation regarding disciplinary action to the full board.
The subcommittee of trustees has the option to wait until Abu’s criminal proceedings in Massachusetts are complete, or they may find the internal affairs report complete and credible enough to proceed on its merits alone, Rogers said.