Officer Suspension, Review Team, Grassroots Effort Grow From May 5 Shooting

The shooting of 21-year-old Kendra James by Portland Police Officer Scott McCollister in May continues to drive the City and the public toward changing police policies. Chief Kroeker, in one of his final acts before resigning (see above), suspended McCollister without pay for 900 hours, or about 5 and a half months. The Chief's "Community Policing Organizational Review Team" (CPORT) has continued to meet once every two weeks to discuss police policy issues. Meanwhile, the Alliance for Police and Community Accountability (APCA), formed by organizations and individuals called together by the Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA), is making a new grassroots effort to give voice to those in communities most affected by police misconduct.

James was shot once by McCollister at a traffic stop on May 5, after the car's driver had been taken into custody. James hopped into the front seat and tried to drive away (see PPR #30). The other officers on the scene, Rick Bean and Kenneth Reynolds, were apparently not disciplined.

According to the August 29 Oregonian, Kroeker's suspension of McCollister was based on the actions that led up to the shooting, but not the shooting itself.

"The chief identified McCollister's lack of planning in deciding how to get James out of the car, his entering the car, the unholstering of his firearm inside the car and his failure to operate his pepper spray effectively as factors that led to his discipline."

James' family filed a $10 million lawsuit in early October, noting that "James was unarmed and 'posed no significant threat of death or serious physical injury' to McCollister or to the public" (Skanner, October 8). It is "unforgivable that the officer even pulled the gun on her in the first place," the family's lawyer, Ken Walker, told the Oregonian upon the news of McCollister's suspension (August 29).

Portland Police Association (PPA) President Robert King, in a published statement, called Kroeker's decision "at the very least confusing and at the very worst, dangerous, to the police officers risking their lives every day on the streets of Portland" (Rap Sheet, September 2003--more PPA commentary in Rapping Back).

At a September 6 public hearing, AMA members presented a video re-enactment along with excerpts of their 81-page report on the incident (http://www.aclu- Their conclusion: McCollister lied when he said he was partially inside the car and about to be dragged by it when he fired his gun. Witness testimony, including the initial statement by Officer Reynolds, as well as forensic evidence saying the gun was at least 20-30 inches away from James, indicate that McCollister shot James from outside the vehicle.

The AMA report calls for a clarification to the state law (ORS161.239) allowing an officer to fire if they "reasonably believe" that there is immediate danger of serious injury or death.

"The use of reports of [an officer's mindset] to justify the use of deadly force suggests that a less than honest and/or frightened officer may use this defense to explain and justify an external event that may result in death or injury to another person. This is a privilege not extended to ordinary citizens."

The AMA report also calls attention to the fact that the outstanding warrant on James was entered by Officer Bean and a deputy District Attorney. They emphasize that the warrant, which was for misdemeanor offenses, should not have resulted in James' death.

While the AMA read through over 600 pages of documents provided by the City and the District Attorney, several pieces of information they requested were never provided (like the City's timeline of events). One of the officer's attorneys subpoenaed the AMA ministers' records as part of the lawsuit. Despite the fact that all of the information they used was provided by the City, Chief Foxworth told them that because of their relationship with James' family, they should not talk with the City or the police until the lawsuit is over.

Meanwhile, CPORT, made up of members of various advisory bodies, the NAACP, and representatives of the Bureau, made at least two formal proposals to the Bureau regarding deadly force policies: 1) That officers report when a weapon is drawn and pointed at a person, and 2) any policies put in place for implementing a Use of Force board should include a mechanism for communicating to the public about their recommendations (see Taser update article for a late-breaking proposal on Tasers.)

The first recommendation was met by loud opposition from the PPA and several other police officer members of CPORT. They claimed that reporting every time they draw and point their weapon will hamper their ability to do their jobs. This seems like an extreme reaction to a proposal involving checking a box on a form. Officer Mike Stradley boasted about his need to draw his weapon nearly every night as he patrols a high crime area. Despite assurances from citizen members of CPORT that such factors would be considered when evaluating whether an officer was too predisposed to point a gun, the police seemed to agree to forward this recommendation to the Chief only begrudgingly.

The second proposed change, involving a Use of Force Board (based on one in Phoenix) that would review shootings, deaths in custody, and maybe all cases in which physical force is used (although it is unclear whether a filter will rule out "justifiable" uses of force before they get to the board) had near- unanimous approval at CPORT. This proposal raises concerns to us at Portland Copwatch, since the Citizen Review Committee (CRC), which is supposed to review police policy, should be allowed to review shootings cases.

Unless such a Use of Force Board (UFB) is integrated with the Independent Police Review Division, which oversees the CRC, and has constant communication with the CRC, the results will likely decrease the public's ability to hold police accountable. Why? Because the daily cases in which people allege harassment, racial discrimination, name-calling, improper use of handcuffs, and other "minor" misconduct will be reviewed by the CRC while the UFB only looks at cases involving physical force--many of which begin as simple traffic stops or search warrant situations.

Without taking a holistic look at the policies and procedures that sometimes escalate to the use of deadly force, both the CRC and the new board would be doing a disservice to the police and the community.

Perhaps these common threads can be brought together by the APCA, which is still forming its mission statement and organizational structure. It is encouraging that this new group grew from multiracial efforts (the AMA's ad-hoc committee on Kendra James was made up of four African American ministers and a representative of the Latino Network) and includes representatives from the homeless advocacy community, the faith community, the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community, the peace community, and others who have been targets of police harassment, as well as people generally interested in social justice.

Former state representative JoAnn Bowman has been coordinating the group's efforts since August and the group has tentative plans to hold forums in the spring for City Council candidates to express their views on police accountability issues.

CPORT disbanded December 17. They will meet in the spring for a report on how their recommendations were handled by the Bureau.

For information contact the Alliance for Police and Community Accountability at PO Box 12290, Portland, 97212, or contact the Chief's office about CPORT at 503-823-0000.


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