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Police Shootings, Shootings of Police

Any time one person is killed by another, it is a tragedy of the human species. When someone is killed during the course of their work, that is very unfortunate. Portland Police Officer Thomas Jeffries was shot and killed by a fleeing suspect on July 21. We expected a banner headline and a flashy news story as with all police-related shootings.

But what happened here in Portland was this: police from all over the country flew in, parading through the streets to this one officer's funeral. The attendance was reported at 2000. The news media broadcast live all day from his funeral; streets were closed; flags flew at half-mast; and another name went up on a Police memorial in Waterfront Park.

On the other hand, Portland Police shot and killed 4 people in 1996. People shot by police (most of whom died): 1995—1, 94—5, 93—4, 92—14, 91—7, 90—5, 89—1, 88—11.*1 That's more than 40 people in 9 years.

Where is there a memorial to anybody shot by Portland Police (with the notable exception of 12- year-old Nathan Thomas, caught in police gunfire while being held hostage in 1992)?

Consider this: The April Rap Sheet, newsletter of the Portland Police Association, published information that the highest number of deaths of active police officers is by suicide. "Police officers are [eight times] more likely to commit suicide than to be killed in a homicide and three times more likely to commit suicide than to die in job-related accidents, according to a new study [by] the University of Buffalo/SUNY."*2

In fact, the last active Portland officer to die before Jeffries was Brett DeCouteau, who committed suicide in December 1996. While he did not receive a hero's funeral, Police Bureau members were very supportive of his family emotionally and financially, according to a letter from his widow to the Rap Sheet.

But let's look at some recent discharges of firearms by Portland's men in blue:

There is the case of Stephen Gomez, who "playfully" shot his wife in the buttocks. He was sentenced to only 90 days in jail instead of the mandatory 5 years for a first conviction. He was, however, forced to resign his job as part of the sentence. Had he remained on the job, police officials told the Oregonian (June 13, 1997) that he would have been fired. Even if not, the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban of 1996 would have prevented him from carrying a weapon. The ban, which amends the 1968 Gun Control Act, prevents anyone convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor from carrying a gun.*3

So far this year, Portland's civilian population hasn't dwindled due to on-duty officer shootings (there have been three), though dogs are not doing so well.

Early July 12, Officer Steven Johns shot a car prowler who hurled a cardboard box at him. Though hit with two bullets, the suspect, Robert Dean Bliss, survived.

On April 29, Officer Brett Williamson shot a robbery suspect who was riding a bicycle. Williamson only fired one shot. The suspect was wounded in the arm and upper torso. The Oregonian reported that the suspect had a semiautomatic weapon.

On March 26 Officer Erick Thorsen chased fleeing robbery suspect Rodger Rosling. The suspect "Allegedly reached for his waistband as though he was reaching for a gun"; Thorson shot him in the arm, and "Police later found a gun near Rosling" (Oregonian, April 6, 1997)*4

In a letter to the Rap Sheet in July, Officer Thorsen commends Portland Police Association (PPA) President Leo Painton and Secretary-Treasurer Tom Mack for "jumping out of bed at 3 AM to come to the scene." His resolve in using deadly force clearly needed re-inforcement from the brothers in blue: "As sure as I was about the shooting, it never hurts to hear that people think you did the right thing."

On February 19, Sgt. Pat Kelly shot and killed a dog in a speeding car. The only officer at the scene, he fired 6 times at the car, which was allegedly moving toward him.*5

Finally, Copwatch received a call on July 29th from a grief-stricken dog owner who said the police had shot her dog and notified her by pinning a note to the door.

We want to reiterate what we've written before: There is not a "war" going on between police and "bad guys." There is no pleasure in listing body counts. We hope that one day all people will have what they need and crime, violence, and police as enforcers of state power will no longer be around.

*1 We only have statistics for one shooting in 1995. It was not fatal. In 1994, one of the five people who was shot lived. In 1993, two of the four people lived. In 1992, at least 6 of the 14 shoootings were fatal.
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*2 The April Rap Sheet actually devotes considerable space to the issue of police suicide, including a reprint of an FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin article on "Preventing Police Suicide." The "eight times more likely" figure comes from a letter to the editor quoting the same SUNY Buffalo study cited in the article.
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*3 Three Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputies had their records of domestic violence convictions expunged to get around the law and allow them to continue carrying guns. Former Portland Police Chief Penny Harrington estimates that 40% of police officer families have suffered some form of domestic abuse. (L.A. Times 6/24/97)
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*4 If this scenario of police finding a gun "later" sounds familiar, it may be because the same thing happened after Officer Terry Kruger shot 20 year old Deontae Keller in the back in February 1996, killing him. In July, 1993, Officer Douglas Erickson fired his gun 23 times at fleeing suspect Gerald Gratton, who allegedly had a gun in his waistband which was later found on the ground by the bus where the pursuit began.
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*5 In September 1993, police shot 20 year old Duane Shaw, who they said was moving his car toward them.
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In My Opinion 18 Years: One Dead Cop, Hundreds of Dead Workers
by Kristian W

A policeman's death is always front page news. And well it should be. Officer Jeffries was the first Portland Police Officer killed in the line of duty since 1979. Obviously, that is news.

On the other hand, we have no idea how many people have been killed by police, sheriffs, prison guards, federal agents, and private security in that same period. When such events make news, the media clings to its "objectivity" like a well-made shield. Victims of police violence receive at best a reserved, lukewarm sympathy in the papers -- as if the very fact of one's death at the hands of the police were sufficient to cast doubt on one's character. Meanwhile, a dead cop is instantly a hero, his life and career publicly lauded, himself openly mourned. Objectivity has no place in the front pages when a policeman loses his life.

A suspect has already been arrested in this case. I have no doubt that he will be convicted and punished. In a sense, this is a rarity. In the U.S., 18 workers die every day from unsafe working conditions and 36,000 others are injured.*6 Who is charged for their murders? Where is justice then?

*6 Economics Dept., San Jose University (Oregonian July 28, 1997)
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What is a Hero?
by Dan H.

The Oregonian headline read "Portland mourns police hero." But what defines a "hero"? Is it someone who works to change the way governments and economic systems oppress people, like those who fought to end slavery, win the rights for women to vote, and withstood police brutality to fight for civil rights, or is it an officer doing his job one night and taking an unnecessary risk?

According to a former Portland Police Reserve Officer who called Copwatch, slain Officer Thomas Jeffries may have acted inapproriately. Perhaps he was acting "heroically" like in a movie or a "Cops"-inspired way. Jeffries went into an enclosed yard after the suspect, who he knew was armed, leaving behind his partner and not waiting for backup. This may have been well-intentioned, but it may also be what got him killed.

We feel bad for the family and friends of Thomas Jeffries, especially his pregnant wife. But we ask the media to lay off the hero-worship talk.
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  [People's Police Report]

August, 1997
Also in PPR #12

Chief Undoes Council Misconduct Vote
Police Shootings, Shootings of Police
 • 18 Years: One Dead Cop, 100s of Dead Workers
 • What is a Hero?

Drug-Free Zones Modified
Day Laborers Resist Immigration Raids
Sheriff Wants Double-Bunking in Jail
Eugene Cops Attack Peaceful Tree-Sit
Updates PPR #12:
 • Beanbag Bullets Now on the Beat
 • Special Duty
 • Pepper Spray to be Banned in Berkeley?
 • Cop-Friendly Capitalism
 • Police Spying Update (again!)
 • Hawthorne Copwatching Update
 • Grant to Copwatch: Update

Report: National Conference in Phillie
Quick Flashes PPR #12:
 • Slap on the Wrist for Rapist Cop
 • Sacramento Cops Target Zapatista Supporters
 • ACLU Updates Police Abuse Manual
 • Portland Copwatch in Media, at Conference

Reviews of 'Zines
Rapping Back #12

Portland Copwatch
PO Box 42456
Portland, OR 97242
(503) 236-3065/ Incident Report Line (503) 321-5120
e-mail: copwatch@portlandcopwatch.org

Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.

People's Police Report #12 Table of Contents
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