Gwerder Family Settles Wrongful Death Suit for $500,000 in 2005 Shooting
On November 14, Portland City Council voted to pay the family of Raymond Gwerder, who was shot in the back by Officer Leo Besner (#27981) in 2005, a record settlement of $500,000. Council and the Chief were careful to say that the situation could have been handled better. However, they laid no blame on Besner, whose itchy trigger finger led him to shoot his AR-15 assault rifle at Gwerder while he was talking to a hostage negotiator about his dog (PPR #37). Commissioner Randy Leonard made sure to put on the record that Gwerder had fired off a gun (not mentioning it was probably into the ground, long before Besner fired), and to clarify that the bullet's trajectory across Gwerder's body likely killed him relatively quickly, not over 20 minutes as implied in police reports and by family attorney Tom Steenson (PPR #42).
In discussing the settlement with the Oregonian, Portland Police Association (PPA) President Robert King defended Besner, saying he is a "good and experienced" officer who "demonstrated restraint and professionalism... He'd never been involved in a shooting before, and he shot because he believed it was necessary to defend life" (November 9). Portland Copwatch called bullshit on King, faxing him a copy of an Associated Press article from August 19, 1999 which explicitly states, "At first, police said they were unsure whether [suspect Richard Lynn] Smith was killed by an officer or whether he killed himself. Officer Leo Besner was involved in the shooting and has been placed on paid administrative leave" (see PPR #19). The Oregonian's Tom Hallman, perhaps feeling King had duped him, wrote a follow-up article in which King claimed he was "specifically referring to Besner's eight years on the bureau's Special Emergency Reaction Team" (November 10).
The settlement is among the largest regarding police misconduct in Portland and the highest for a shooting. In the past 25 years, only the protests of 2004 at $845,000 (PPR #36), and the in- custody deaths of Damon Lowery ($600,000--also PPR #36) and "Tony" Stephenson ($625,000--who died in a police choke hold in 1985) ended in larger settlements.
Unfortunately, Besner's actions in this case, like his many other incidents we've chronicled-- including his part in pepper-spraying protestors in the above-mentioned case and beating Maria- Janeth Rodriguez-Sanchez (PPR #36), which led to another $140,000 in City (taxpayer) money being paid out-- did not lead to any disciplinary action.
Gwerder was tasered while mortally wounded; at least three other people (James Jahar Perez, Willie Grigsby, and Dennis Young) have been zapped by Portland police while dead or dying.
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