Two other shootings since December show leadership change not enough

[pictures of Perez, 

Portland Police shot and killed James Jahar Akbar Perez, 28, an unarmed African-American man, after pulling him over for failure to signal a turn on Sunday, March 28. Officer Jason Sery (#36878) fired three rounds into Perez' car after a supposed altercation, but witnesses say Perez never even took off his seat belt (KOIN-TV, March 29).

Perez is the third young unarmed African-American person fatally shot by police in the last 3 years, following Byron Hammick on February 22, 2002 and Kendra James on May 5, 2003 (see PPRs #26 & 30). In a city with one of the smallest African-American populations in the nation, this is a worrisome statistic.

Information is slow to be released. Sery's partner, Sean Macomber (#37147) fired a Taser after Sery shot Perez, and the Taser, which puts out a 50,000 volt pulse for five seconds at a time, was running for over three minutes.

The City agreed to hold a public inquest in order to have a full airing of the facts. (Such an inquest has not been held since the death of "Tony" Stephenson by a police choke hold in 1985.) An inquest determines only how Perez died, while the decision about whether to file criminal charges is left up to a secret grand jury. Nonetheless, Sery filed a lawsuit to stop the inquest from going forward, alleging it would interfere with his right to a fair trial. Claiming that the delay caused by resolving Sery's suit would be more problematic than switching the dates, DA Mike Schrunk caved in and set the inquest to follow the April 20 grand jury.

Many people thought the rash of shootings, particularly against people of color, might subside when former LA cop Mark Kroeker was forced from office to make room for local African-American Derrick Foxworth last year. However, in the last 7 months of Kroeker's tenure, there were four police involved shootings with just one death (Kendra James), while in Foxworth's first 7 months in office there were four shootings, all of which ended in the death of the suspects. Perhaps more distressing, three of the four victims were people of color.

A few months after the shooting of Laotian-American Eddie Homsombath in October (see PPR #31), police shot and killed Jose Angel Padilla, 22, of Yakima on January 3. At the downtown bus depot, Padilla was reportedly holding his girlfriend, Anaisa Valdez Arroy, by the hair and threatening to cut her throat with a knife. PPB Officer Brian Hubbard (#32024) shot and killed Padilla with one shot from an AR-15 rifle (Oregonian, January 5). This is the second situation in which police shot a suspect who was holding another person in recent years (the last was Byron Hammick). It is amazing that nobody else was hurt in these shootings, especially considering the case of Nathan Thomas, a 12-year-old who was shot and killed by police when a man was holding a knife to his neck in 1992. As with the shooting of Perez, there were many other civilians around Padilla who might also have been hurt.

[headlines] The other recent shooting occurred on Christmas eve, as officers in outer SE Portland were staking out Shane Eric Clements, 25, a suspect in several armed robberies. After Clements got into a car they say he stole, police boxed Clements in, but he tried to get away. After Sgt. John Cordell (#8750) fired one shot at him, officers Paul Kennard (#26978) and Melissa Gray (#34495) opened fire as well. Cordell eventually fired 11 shots, Kennard 7 and Gray 6. At least three of the 24 shots killed Clements. Clements was unarmed. In a detailed article in the February 15 Oregonian, it was revealed that the police had actually slashed the tires on the car that Clements was using prior to his getting into it. This is a highly unusual police tactic in of itself, but calls into question the urgency of the officers' use of deadly force, if Clements' car was on rims and probably unable to travel very far very fast.

Also, the gunfire placed the neighboring mobile home park at risk which, like the Perez and Padilla shootings, raises questions of officers' ability to take the overall safety of the public into consideration when they use deadly force. Such consideration was one of the recommendations the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC) made in their report last August (see PPR #31).

The grand juries in both the Padilla and Clements cases cleared the officers of criminal wrongdoing, with the Clements jury going so far as to say the officers "did a good job in a dangerous situation" (Oregonian, January 14).

As mentioned in PPR #26, police shootings often come one right after another, we suspect because police are on edge or having heard about another shooting are more likely to reach for their guns. The Clements and Padilla shootings were just 10 days apart. Perez was shot two days after a state trooper exchanged gunfire with a suspect (see sidebar).

Although police officers involved in deadly force cases are now being separated from one another and interviewed quickly (except in the Clements case when the holidays delayed detectives), the basic questions of why they are so quick to shoot, particularly at minorities, are still not being addressed. Replacing Kroeker with Foxworth will not change anything unless the overall culture of the police is changed. The community must demand that these training, policy, and race relations issues not wait for another two years before the "experts" from PARC write another report.

Call Mayor Katz, Police Commissioner at 503-823-4120 and demand accountability. This must include citizen review of all police shootings, within weeks of the incident by local citizens rather than two years or more after the fact by outside agencies.

Demand that state law and City policy be changed so that an officer who uses deadly force with the "reasonable belief" that there is a threat to his or another's life must be able to prove it was objectively reasonable to think that such a threat existed.

The Albina Ministerial Alliance has taken leadership in the Justice for James Jahar Perez struggle. Other groups, including the Coalition of Black Men and the Urban League are also involved. More info can be obtained from the Alliance for Police and Community Accountability, 503-222-5694 x34. The outcome of the Perez grand jury was unknown at PPR #32 deadline; check http://www.portlandcopwatch.org/perezjury.html for information.


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