Supporters of Portland Copwatch are familiar with flyers we produced in October '97 and February '98: "Portland Police: Out of Control" and "Portland Police: Still Out of Control."

Well, what do you say in June when they're at it again? In a period of two short days, Portland's finest were involved in three highly outrageous incidents, two involving their non-lethal "beanbag" guns (and a real bullet, too), and one involving pepper spray and the mysterious in-custody death of a young man.

On Sunday, May 31, Brian Penton, a healthy twenty-nine-year-old black man, died after being pepper sprayed and restrained by the Portland police. According to the June 2 Oregonian, Penton, visiting Portland from Tacoma, ran down the street in Northeast Portland after a traffic accident, taking off his clothes as he ran. He eventually got on top of a police car, was pepper- sprayed by as many as three officers, then came down and was handcuffed. He ran away from the scene, handcuffed and dripping with sweat, and the police apparently tackled him, sat on his arms and legs, and then "hobbled" him. (Hobbling is tying together the suspect's hands and feet, while the more common phrase, hog-tying, technically includes restraining the neck as well.) Shortly after he was restrained this way, he died. Though official reports describe his death as being essentially mysterious, we believe that police tactics may be responsible for this tragedy.

A 1993 report by the ACLU of Southern California investigated the effects of Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) Pepper Spray. In six of the fourteen cases studied, restraints such as hog-ties contributed to the death of a pepper spray victim. In many of these cases, as in the case of Brian Penton, the victims were not suspected of any violent criminal behavior, making their deaths not only unfortunate, but manifestly unjust.

In addition, the coroner's statement in the Oregonian states that Penton's death was caused by "drug-induced psychosis", whereas many of the people hog-tied in police custody are known to have died from "positional asphyxia." (Positional asphyxia is a nice way to say people were unable to breathe because of the position they were in after their breathing was already restricted.) Thirteen of the 14 who died in California were under the influence of drugs. Clearly, police use of pepper spray and restraints in this case warrants serious scrutiny.

In addition, as mentioned in PPR #12, doctors in San Francisco found that pepper spray actually caused hearts to stop beating for several seconds in laboratory tests.

Copwatch sent copies of the summary of the ACLU's report and a news release regarding the San Francisco study to the Mayor, the Chief's office, the Coroner's office, and a few media outlets. So far, we have heard back from two newspapers, but not from any city or police officials.

In addition, the Oregonian reports the coroner listed cuts on Penton's knees and elbows and "four to five superficial baton marks on his back." This last part is curious as no other part of the report mentions the police using batons to subdue Penton.

While officials tell us that the training division is fully aware of the dangers of positional asphyxia, nobody can prove whether Penton would have died had he not been treated roughly by the Portland Police.

On that same day (May 31) at 2:00 AM, Portland Police shot a "belligerent but unarmed man" at Northwest 23rd and Marshall (Northwest Examiner, June, 1998). The young man, Benjamin Allen Skinner, apparently left a tavern when told he would not be served, went back to his apartment building, and began breaking out windows. The Examiner quotes police spin doctor Cliff Madison as saying that Skinner leaped at Officer Cory Roberts, who fired four beanbag shotgun rounds at Skinner. Roberts' partner, Officer Richard Deland, shot Skinner once in the chest with his handgun when the beanbags failed to deter him. The article says Skinner was in serious condition as of June 2, but we have no further information.

The next day, June 1, police who were following a non-violent protest against corporate America pulled out their yellow "banana" beanbag guns. This is the first time we know of the guns have been threatened for use as crowd control. They were introduced as being somewhere up the continuum of force after pepper spray and batons for people who were threatening the life of an officer or another civilian. Perhaps the large "Art and Revolution" puppets, and the signs promoting anarchism (the end of hierarchy) freaked them out. (For more on the "Art and Revolution" demonstration and the cops, see "Police Bring Out Shotguns...Because of Puppets".)

All in all, Portland Police are still Out of Control.

For more information on beanbag guns see PPR #12.
For more on the ACLU's 1993 Study, or its 1994 follow-up report visit their website at http://www.aclu.org/issues/criminal/polic e.html.
The coroner can be reached at 248-3746.


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