People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Third Portland Police Shooting Leaves Homeless Man Dead;
For the third time this year, Portland Police shot someone who was allegedly assaulting them; this time, the weapon was a crowbar, not a gun. On June 12, Officer Robert Brown (#36496), confronting Nicholas Glendon Davis, 23, over a reported crime, tripped and fell, then shot and killed Davis with two bullets as Davis, who was homeless, reportedly swung the crowbar. This makes the fifth shooting since the US Department of Justice and the City of Portland signed an agreement for the Police Bureau to lessen the amount of force they use against people who are or may be in mental health crisis-- and the fifth shooting involving someone displaying just such symptoms. More news also came out in this year's two earlier shootings (both in PPR #62), of Kelly Swoboda (March 12) and Paul Alan Ropp (April 16), as well as the two most controversial shootings of 2010-- Aaron Campbell (PPR #50) and Keaton Otis (PPR #51).
Since Campbell's death, the Multnomah County District Attorney's office has been releasing grand jury transcripts in the consideration of criminal charges for officers in shootings-- but only cases where the suspect dies (so we may never see the testimony in the Ropp case). The transcripts from Davis' incident tell a sad story of yet another preventable death. Brown and his partner Matthew Nilsen (#28174) were responding to a call from another homeless man, Loren Kurth, who at first said Davis had stolen his bicycle, but when officers arrived told them Davis had scuffled with him and caused him to leave his bike in the woods off the Springwater Corridor near SE 104th and Foster Road. Both officers said they thought Davis had mental health issues and/or was on drugs, as he was rambling on about Russians (himself) and Nazis (the cops). While Nilsen was talking with Kurth, Brown let Davis know he'd found a warrant on him for a misdemeanor crime, and it was "no big deal," they could take care of it later as long as Kurth got his bike back. Then literally while Kurth was wheeling the bicycle down the path toward them, Davis pulled a crowbar out of his pants, prompting Brown and Nilsen to draw their guns and back up. Brown tripped over something and fell to the ground. Rather than call to his partner for help, roll out of the way, or take other defensive measures, Brown fired two shots, hitting Davis in the arm and chest.
Kurth was not called to testify to the grand jury, even though he presumably saw the whole thing. One civilian witness who had been driving by claimed he saw Davis go flying backward (which happens in the movies, but not in real life) and told the jurors the officers had a "God-given right to defend themselves"; he also said he was "tired of groups saying officers use excessive force." The DA did not instruct the jury to ignore those comments, but rather, for example, prompted the Bureau's training officer to say why police can only shoot people in the hand in the movies.
We always say we want everyone to go home safe at night--the police and the community. Perhaps a poor choice of words in this situation, Brown testified that when he saw the crowbar he thought "I want to go home"-- then shot and killed a homeless man. Davis staggered into the bushes, where the cops pointed a rifle at him to be sure he wasn't "playing possum," and died.
In two previous shootings of homeless men in mental health crisis, the police waited three days to release photos of the not-very-scary weapons they held: the one-inch bladed X-Acto knife held by Jack Collins in 2010 (PPR #50) and the broken phone handle held by Merle Hatch (PPR #59). In this case, they released the photo of the "three foot crowbar" the next day, probably to emphasize the "threat." When asked why they hadn't patted Davis down for weapons, Nilsen said "it's not a police state" and "we're just talking to people as people." That's interesting, given the stop-and-pat- down program the Bureau seems to be instituting for young African American men (PPR #61). Also of note is that Collins, too, was homeless, and was shot because Officer Jason Walters backed himself into a corner, while in 2011 Thomas Higginbotham, also homeless, was shot by Jason Lile and Larry Wingfield when they got themselves too far into an abandoned car wash to back out. Grand jury testimony shows the PPB does not train officers what to do if they trip and fall with their guns drawn.
The grand jury cleared the officers of wrongdoing in Davis' death, as they did in the Swoboda and Ropp shootings, but indicted Ropp on 29 counts including assault of a law enforcement animal for shooting Mick, the police dog. A huge memorial service was held for Mick on May 12 at a stadium in Hillsboro, attended by community members, cops, other K-9 units, and Chief Reese. Surely Chief Reese knew that date was the four year anniversary of Keaton Otis' death at the hands of the PPB Gang Enforcement Team in 2010, because that was the same day he became Chief. At a memorial held for Otis, Portland Copwatch's Dan Handelman made note of the irony and stunned members of the audience. (Also see "Rapping Back.") Otis' half sister, Alyssa Bryant, remembered her brother and her father, Fred Bryant, who died last fall fighting for justice for Keaton. Monthly vigils continue for Otis on the 12th of each month at the corner of NE 6th and Halsey.
While the City (and the community) await a ruling on whether they had the right to fire Officer Ron Frashour for shooting Campbell in the back, the other officers involved in that incident moved forward with their complaints about the slaps on the wrist they received for their part in his death. Sgt. Liani Reyna, who left her post though she was ostensibly lead officer on the scene, Sgt. John Birkinbine, who failed to let others know he'd negotiated for Campbell to come out of his apartment, and Officer Ryan Lewton, who fired "beanbag" rounds at Campbell even though he was reasonably compliant with officers and had his back turned, all appealed the 80 hours' suspension they received. An arbitrator is expected to rule on the merits of the discipline soon, after the City voted in late May to pay an outside law firm a total of $174,000 to handle the case (Oregonlive, May 28).
While the community has been pushing for officers to be interviewed within 24 hours of shooting incidents, Officer Brown wasn't interviewed until 6 days later.
The Police Review Board (PRB) met to discuss the Swoboda shooting on July 2; the question of whether officers were within Bureau policy and training in any of this year's three shootings has yet to be answered. (More PRB)
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.