POLICE SHOOTING OF YOUNG WOMAN
DRAWS INTENSE COMMUNITY
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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