People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
PPB SHOOTS, KILLS MAN FIRST TIME IN A YEAR;
On October 25, news broke that former Portland Police Chief Larry O'Dea had been indicted by a
grand jury on negligent wounding charges for when he "accidentally" shot his friend in the back
while squirrel hunting in Harney County (PPR #69). Meanwhile, for the first time in over a
year, the Portland Police shot and killed a man, Steven Wayne Liffel, 52, on December 6.
Details on last year's incident-- Michael Johnson's death in November 2015-- were
revealed in a Police Review Board (PRB) report in October. In another case, PPB officers did not
discharge a firearm, but did participate in a chase following a man who stole $70 from a motel and
allegedly fired at officers. The chase ended with Tigard officers shooting and wounding Joshua
Luther, 37. News also came out that one of the officers who killed Keaton Otis in
2010 (PPR #61) was hired as an Assistant District Attorney. And, in mid-September, people
marked the 10 year anniversary of the death of James Chasse, Jr. (PPR #40).
The longest time between two PPB shooting deaths remains 624 days, between Derek Coady (May 15, 2008--PPR #45) and Aaron Campbell (January 29, 2010--PPR #60).
O'Dea denies investigators' claim he was drunk when he moved his rifle on April 21 while he and his friend Robert Dempsey were sitting in lawn chairs. He is suing Harney County for damaging his reputation. On December 2, O'Dea filed a motion saying the state charge was unconstitutional (Oregonian, December 3). Administrative investigations into the shooting and the cover-up continue. For his part, Mayor Hales said he didn't take action because "I trusted that the appropriate internal and criminal investigations were taking place." O'Dea's shooting-- and the failure to report it through proper channels-- led to proposed changes to city code and criticism from both the US Department of Justice and the Compliance Officer/Community Liaison overseeing the feds' Settlement Agreement with the City (article).
In December, Liffel was allegedly firing off a gun near E Burnside and 148th when Portland officers were called to the scene. Officer Lawrence Keller (#16483) shot and killed Liffel after "some kind of an encounter" (Oregonlive, December 7). Keller was also involved in the October 2000 shooting of 19-year-old Justyn Gallegos (PPR #22) and fired a Taser at the wounded body of Dennis Lamar Young, 28, after Lt. Jeffrey Kaer shot him (PPR #38).
In the robbery incident on October 25, the PPB attempted to conduct a traffic stop after Luther's wife Michelle drove the car away and stopped at a Tigard gas station. She fled again, leading the two agencies on a chase that ended in Tualatin. When Luther ran from the scene, Tigard Officer Andrew Pastore shot and wounded him (Oregonlive, October 30). Though Luther is said to have fired his gun at police during the chase, it's a relief that officers did not return fire, since Luther's three children were also in the vehicle. Portland Copwatch has long asked the question how multiple agencies collectively decide whether to engage in the use of deadly force. Since no PPB officer used a gun, it's unlikely this scenario will be examined by the OIR Group, which reviews officer- involved shootings in quasi-annual reports. Their last report came out in January 2016 (PPR #67). OIR was awarded a new contract on November 9 to review at least 11 shootings since March 2014. O'Dea's shooting was not on the list.
Not surprisingly, the Police Review Board, which for deadly force cases includes four officers, an IPR manager, one civilian PRB member, and one Citizen Review Committee member, found no wrongdoing in Johnson's 2015 death. Although the DOJ requires the PPB to de-escalate and use less force against people in mental health crisis, only one mention of Johnson's mental health is made in the PRB's report. While the PPB had reported one member of the Special Emergency Reaction Team (SERT) fired a "less lethal baton" (aka rubber bullet) after Johnson was shot, three cops (an officer, a Sergeant and a Captain) were examined for their use of a "40 MM multilauncher" and found in policy. The PRB did vote to have the Bureau debrief the Sergeant and Captain who delayed calling SERT by eight minutes. They further suggested all Acting Sergeants receive critical incident training. In an interesting twist on how criminal records can haunt people, the PRB also suggested that officers under scrutiny for a deadly force incident not be listed in the regional database (RegJIN) as homicide suspects. PCW suggests they should go through the same rigamarole as other citizens to clear their names if the grand jury fails to indict them.
The PRB also reviewed the June 2015 shooting death of Allen Bellew (PPR #66), again finding cops did nothing wrong. The Board unanimously recommended more training around the "Graham Standard" so officers know their "rights to use force when it becomes necessary to ensure their safety." The Bureau declined, saying they had fully covered the issue.
Their report finally came back, too, in the case where Officer Charles Asheim shot at, but missed,
Ryan Sudlow at a Gresham gas station in February 2015 (PPR #65). That case had
been sent back to Internal Affairs for more investigation. The end result was five members found
the officer in policy but felt he should be debriefed regarding inadequately boxing in the suspect;
the two dissenters did not think a debrief was necessary. They also unanimously recommended
debriefings for "employees 2&3" who made rushed decisions because the incident happened
during a shift change, and made the decision to box in Suspect at a "busy gas station at rush
hour [while] civilians were present."
The PRB Report, dated July 2016, wasn't posted until mid-October after both PCW and the Portland Mercury asked where it was.
A few people tipped off Portland Copwatch that Cody Berne, one of the cops who shot and killed Keaton Otis, had left his position at a Portland law firm to join the DA's office. PCW put out an open letter to the Chief titled "Foxes with blood on their mouths guarding the hen house," noting Berne fired his gun 11 times at Otis, an African American young man pulled over for "looking like a gangster." PCW wrote "We have to wonder whether the DA is aware this ex-police officer prosecutor will be seen as 100% biased toward the police, but especially hope he will never be assigned to an officer involved shooting, death in custody or serious injury case." We also used that letter to criticize the PPB having two of the officers involved in the 2001 death of José Mejía Poot-- Captain Jeffrey Bell and Commander Chris Davis-- sit in judgment at a May Citizen Review Committee hearing about excessive force.
On September 16, exactly 10 years after James Chasse was killed, family, friends, and community members (including PCW) gathered at Cerimon House in NE Portland to watch the documentary "Alien Boy" and have a discussion. The day after Thanksgiving, Don't Shoot Portland closed off the block around SW 13th and Everett where Chasse died to gather and distribute food and clothes for those in need.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.