People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Men Ripped from Car at Gunpoint Win $175,000 Award
Our prediction of how much the City would pay out this year in lawsuits and settlements for police misconduct has already been proven too low: In September, two juries awarded plaintiffs a total of $230,000 for two separate incidents, while Council approved a settlement of $27,500 in a case involving an officer having sex while on duty. In one case, three officers with histories of controversial shootings threw three African American men to the ground in a parking garage, mistaking them for "bad guys"; in the other, two officers fired "less lethal" weapons simultaneously at a man videotaping them who they mistook for a jaywalker. In the parking lot case, repeat lawsuit recipient Leo Besner (#27981) has earned the nickname of the "million dollar man."
The men, Harold Hammick, Ri'Chard Booth and Alex Clay, were in a parking garage downtown at about 2:45 AM in March, 2007. The officers were supposedly looking for African American men who had been involved in a street altercation when they came upon the three in their car. Because Hammick and Booth had waited 20 minutes while Clay picked up a pizza, the officers thought they were suspicious. When Besner approached the car, Hammick informed him, as is procedure, that he had a concealed weapons permit. Besner flipped out, screaming "he's carrying!", ripping open the door and slicing through the seat belt, supposedly so Hammick wouldn't pull his gun while undoing the buckle.
The cops dragged all three out of the car, allegedly punching Hammick in the crotch two times, questioning their "manhood," and pointing guns at their heads. Clay said Besner seemed disappointed that the men didn't fight back. They were eventually released without charges (Oregonian, September 24). Fortunately for the men, two PSU students in a nearby car ducked down to observe the action without being seen by the officers. Their testimony led the jury to side with the men and order the city to pay $175,000. The jury considered that this might be racial profiling. The foreperson said that "Race was discussed only briefly during deliberations as jurors wondered whether white men would have been treated the same" (Oregonian, September 29).
Besner roughed up the three men with Sgt. Chris Davis (#32024), who was involved in the fatal shooting of José Santos Victor Mejía Poot in a psychiatric hospital in 2001 (PPR #24), and Brian Hubbard (#32024), who shot and killed Jose Padilla with an assault rifle while Padilla was holding a woman at knifepoint in the downtown bus station in 2004 (PPR #32). Besner's history includes the shooting of Raymond Gwerder in the back while Gwerder was talking to hostage negotiators in 2005 (PPR #37), roughing up teenager Maria-Janeth Rodriguez- Sanchez at a Tri-Met stop in 2003 (PPR #36), and brutalizing anti-war protestor Bill Ellis, also in 2003 (PPRs #32,#33, #34, #35). The settlement for the Gwerder family was $500,000; Ellis's share of the massive settlement regarding two protests was $299,772.72, and Rodriguez-Sanchez was awarded $177,161.41. Technically, that's only $976,934.13, but hey, who's counting.
The videographer, Frank Waterhouse, was in an auto wrecking yard in May, 2006 when officers came on the property chasing an alleged jaywalker they say ran from them. Waterhouse was taping the police action when Officer Jennifer Musser (#40710) accused him of being the jaywalker and ordered him to put the camcorder down. Without warning, Officer Ronald Frashour (#40927) shot his Taser at the same time Officer Joshua Bocchino (#41047) shot Waterhouse with "beanbags" (Oregonian, September 22). The officers claimed they thought the camcorder could be used as a weapon (also see IPR article in this issue). Criminal charges of disorderly conduct and trespass were dropped, and attorney Ben Haile filed suit (PPR #43).
One of the most interesting aspects of this case: Chief Rosie Sizer took the stand and criticized the officers' behavior. Despite Use of Force Review Board findings that the officers were within policy, Sizer testified at the civil trial that "the officers had ample time to coordinate their efforts so Waterhouse wasn't hit with two weapons at once, and that they had plenty of time to give warning." In addition, because he was not "actively resisting," officers should not have used a "beanbag" round (Portland Mercury , October 1).
The jury ruling of $55,000 is nearly twice the $30,000 Waterhouse was asking for. What makes these two cases unusual in recent history is that most of the large outlays by the City between 1998 and the present have been out-of-court settlements; these two incidents were decided by juries.
Beth Creighton, the lawyer representing the woman with whom pervocop Jason Faulk had sex while on duty, says her client has diminished cognitive capacity. To avoid the pain of a trial, they accepted the $27,500 settlement (also see article in this issue Sixth Cop in Three Years Leaves Force for Sexual Misconduct).
In our last issue, we published a graph showing the average yearly payout for police misconduct from 1994 to 2009 has been $454,377 and that the City was on track to pay out about $330,000 in 2009. These cases bring that total to $479,150, or slightly above the average. It brings the 17-year total of 1993-2009 to over $7.2 million, with over $3.8 million just between 2005 and 2009 (5 years).
We are working on revising these figures, as a public records request for the top settlements and jury awards revealed another $572,000 we didn't know about from seven cases, $119,000 from 2005-2009. The Risk Management document is missing at least 10 of our top 25 amounts (see our website/PPR #47 for info), and an Oregonian article on December 11 revealed another $93,000... so it's likely even more is missing. As we've noted many times before, when the City pays out money, the officers do not necessarily end up being disciplined. Particularly with repeat offenders like Besner (and Christopher Humphreys--see James Chasse article in this issue), the City should consider making the officers pay with money or with their jobs.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.