Portland Police Execute Man In Low-Income Hotel

Peter Gilbaugh was killed when a Portland Police Officer put a gun to his head and shot him. The 44-year-old used-car salesman was apparently engaged in a struggle with two officers at about 3 am on December 31. The police had come to the low-income hotel where Gilbaugh lived to investigate a complaint that he had urinated on another tenant's door.

According to the January 22 Oregonian, the female officer on the scene, Stephanie Rabey, had been "slammed into the wall at least twice during the struggle." This was toned down from the January 1 Oregonian's statements and video on several TV stations of broken sheet rock saying that Rabey's head had been rammed through a wall in the hallway.

The TV news and grand jury evidence presented a muffled audio clip which is allegedly Rabey crying out "my gun!" while Gilbaugh wrestled with her. The police used this audio clip‹a police radio recording which makes one wonder who was pressing the transmit button‹to explain why Officer William Balzer put his gun to Gilbaugh's head and shot. He was afraid Gilbaugh was attempting to get Rabey's gun. Balzer was cleared of criminal wrongdoing by the grand jury.

One chilling detail comes from the Oregonian's report on the grand jury testimony‹that "Balzer shouted a warning to Rabey that he was going to have to shoot Gilbaugh, who was also striking out at him...Rabey said something like 'I know.'" This means the officers had time to discuss killing Gilbaugh, even if briefly. This exchange, combined with the facts that the officers are agents of the state and that the Grand Jury refused to indict Balzer (a legal license to kill, albeit afterward), leads some of us to conclude that this was a form of execution.

Even if we are to believe that two trained police officers were unable to physically restrain one mildly intoxicated man (Gilbaugh's toxicology report indicated an alcohol level just over the legal limit for driving), there is still that haunting phrase the police like to use‹that they "have to shoot." But there is always a choice.

The situation described is that Gilbaugh was on top of Rabey, who was lying face-down on the floor. Balzer was apparently on top of this pile. If he was at such close quarters, why could he not have reached for Gilbaugh's hand, which was allegedly grabbing Rabey's gun? Why did he not try pushing Gilbaugh off of Rabey? It seems the choice to use lethal force‹and yes, there was a choice involved‹resulted in a panicky extrajudicial execution along the lines of the five New York officers who shot at an unarmed African man 41 times.

There is an interesting twist to this, the second death directly resulting from a police shooting in 1998, though at least the fourth death related directly to Portland Police actions*: The Oregonian printed a somewhat sympathetic portrait of the victim in their January 19th Metro section. We have been publishing this newsletter for over five years and this is the first time there has been any effort by a mainstream media source to actually write about the victim of a police shooting as though they were more than someone with a police record, someone who deserved to die, or at best, someone whose death was a logical outcome from their own actions.

The article, by Peter Farrell, states that "people who knew Gilbaugh as good-natured have trouble believing he would have attacked police." Lee Leslie, his sales manager, described him as someone who "commanded respect...he could talk to the owner of a company or a bum on the street."

Gilbaugh was apparently living in the Swindells Building on SW Broadway near Burnside because he had lost his driver's license after two drunk driving convictions, and his mother, whose home he had lived in, passed away. He volunteered at a homeless shelter downtown one winter in place of selling used cars, a job he is described as being very good at.

Meanwhile, we hope to hear more about this case than what came out at the grand jury. As we know from the past, the District Attorney, whose job depends on cooperation with the police, presents all the information the grand jury hears when they decide whether to indict a criminally suspect police officer. Since the only Portland officer ever to be charged in a shooting was off-duty cop Steven Sims, who shot his mistress' husband in 1969, we hope that the Gilbaugh family will find justice elsewhere.

*1) Aaron Rahmaan was shot in the head and killed on January 26. 2) Brian Penton died in police custody June 1 after being pepper sprayed, handcuffed, and being placed face down. He had stripped off his clothes and run down the street. 3) Richard "Dickie" Dow died October 19, the morning after being pepper sprayed, handcuffed, placed face down, and piled on by eight officers. He had allegedly had a fight with a school police officer (see update on dow).
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