[Kendra James memorial photo]

The Death of Kendra James, 21,
Prompts New Calls for Accountability

In the early morning hours of May 5, a Portland Police Officer pulled over a car in North Portland, ostensibly because it had not stopped at a stop sign; 20 minutes later, the driver and one passenger were in custody and the third occupant, 21-year-old Kendra James, was dead.

James' death has prompted fresh outrage in the African American community, which has long complained of police racism and misconduct in Portland. This tragedy sparked the largest march against police brutality in at least the last 15 years, a community forum, and a fresh opportunity for change.

James, an African American mother of two, was wanted on a warrant for failing to appear in court. Officer Rick Bean (DPSST #39770), who pulled the car over, told James he recognized her while attempting to identify the rental car's driver. This may have intimidated James and caused her to be fearful for her safety.

Bean called for backup. Officer Kenneth Reynolds (#37287) and Scott McCollister (#40709) helped take both the driver, Terry Jackson, and the front seat passenger, Darnell White, into custody.

This left the 115-pound, 5-foot-2 James alone in the back seat of the car, in the middle of the night on a freeway overpass with three six-foot tall white male police officers. James jumped into the front seat and, according to the police, tried to drive away. [Oregonian July 3 

What exactly happened remains unclear. James was bent to the right in the driver's seat and McCollister put most of his body into the car to pull her out. He first grabbed her hair--a wig, which came off. He allegedly then tried using pepper spray (he claims it didn't work because he put his finger on the safety lid instead of the spray button) while Reynolds shot a Taser at James that failed to pierce her coat. McCollister says he then put his gun to James' head to tell her to turn off the engine and she put the car in gear. He says he felt himself falling back and feared he would be dragged by the car, so he fired one bullet. The bullet hit Kendra James in the hip, traveled up to her lower ribcage, and killed her.

The officers pulled James out and handcuffed her, which is standard procedure; however, they left her lying unattended while they set up a crime scene perimeter, rather than staying with her until paramedics arrived. The police did not check her vital signs, Reynolds said, because he thought she was "faking" being unconscious (the Skanner, May 21). Reynolds also drove away from the scene to use the bathroom at the nearby Northeast Precinct and claims he got lost trying to find his way back.

To make matters worse, before being interviewed by investigators, McCollister and Reynolds went out to dinner together the night after the shooting (in apparent violation of Directive 1010.10, "Duties and Responsibilities when Deadly Physical Force is Used," sub (b) (4) "Prior to the interview and walk through with the detective witness members will not have extensive discussion about the incident with any other person.")

Despite a number of contradictions in police and witness testimony, on May 19 the Multnomah County grand jury came back without a criminal indictment against McCollister. It is likely that the D.A. was only asking whether the officer could be charged with homicide, as opposed to manslaughter or another lesser crime.

[Observer United for Justice 
The decision prompted a community march on May 24, with an estimated turnout of 1500-2000 people. While largely made up of constituents from the mostly African-American Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA), the crowd was very diverse and included members of the broader peace and social justice community and the Latino community, who had organized after the police shot José Mejía Poot in 2001 (see PPR #s 24 and forward). Basic Rights Oregon, the state's largest gay and lesbian civil rights group, called on its members to march, pointing out the common struggles of all oppressed people. Joe Bean Keller, whose son was shot by police in 1996 (PPR #9) and Lynnetta Jones, whose son Byron Hammick was killed last February (PPR #27), helped lead the march from Alberta Park to the make-shift memorial on the overpass where James was shot (which sprung up on May 5 and is still growing at press time).

After the grand jury decision, the police commenced an internal investigation. While the FBI is also looking at the case, it is this kind of internal investigation that presents an enormous conflict of interest and needs to be changed (more on shootings investigations in IPR article).

As a result of the internal investigation, Chief Kroeker publicly announced that he planned to punish McCollister with a "lengthy" suspension, reportedly six months. However, McCollister was allowed to meet with the Chief for "mitigation" to try to lessen the discipline.

At a community forum organized by ministers from the AMA and the City, Kroeker admitted he had concerns about some of the actions McCollister took leading up to the shooting--but not the shooting itself. This begs the question, if McCollister had followed proper police training, would he have ended up half engaged in the front seat of a moving car, firing his weapon?

Over 400 people packed the Mount Olivet Baptist Church for the July 1 forum, which lasted 5 hours and left people with more questions than answers. Pastor W.G. Hardy of the Highland United Church of Christ set a good tone by declaring that he felt the police were not providing answers to the community's questions. Despite the police trying to explain every detail of their investigation (including a detective's minute-by-minute account starting from a wake-up call early in the morning of the shooting), the community was not satisfied. A video re-enactment of McCollister in the car door, viewed by many as unpersuasive, did not help their case. After nearly one and a half hours of police presentations, Pastor Roy Tate of the Christ Memorial Church (and President of the AMA) interjected "'I think the community has heard enough, I think the community wants to speak.' It was as if Tate had pressed an escape valve. The applause rose like hot steam" (Oregonian, July 2).

The case has drawn huge amounts of media attention, including several pieces in the Portland Tribune, a few articles in the Willamette Week alternatively denouncing the police and James, and a few hard-hitting editorials in the Oregonian (critical, among other things, of the Bureau's "insular, secretive culture," and of the police union's assertion that they "will not allow" McCollister to be fired--on July 3 and June 1, respectively).

Important things to note about this case include the youth of the officers (McCollister is 27, Reynolds, 26, and Bean, 23) and how short a time they had been on the force (less than two years each), the fact that this is the 6th person of color shot at out of the last 17 police shootings (35% in a city with a 23% "non-white" population), and only the third woman shot by police in the last 10 years (out of 54 incidents). Incidentally, all three women were killed; and the Portland Tribune reported on July 22 that out of 12 homicides this year in Portland, half (including James) were women.

Although James died young (and is now being vilified in some circles because she had problems with drug addiction and cocaine was found in her system at the time of death), this incident has brought many people together and the hope for change.

To get involved contact the AMA at 503-285-0493 , or www.PPBcomplaint.com.

Some information for this article was taken from the May 7 Skanner, the May 23 Tribune, The May 22 Mercury and the May 14 Observer, among other publications.


Justice for Kendra James page
People's Police Report #30 Table of Contents
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