Community organizes, Council passes resolution

The shooting death of James Jahar Perez, the second unarmed African American motorist shot by Portland Police in two years, has motivated change.

['I feared for my life'-Sery in 
Oregonian.] [Skanner: Inquest finds 
homicide.] After the grand jury cleared Officers Jason Sery (#36878) and Sean Macomber (#37147) of criminal wrongdoing in killing Perez, District Attorney Mike Schrunk arranged a public inquest in late April. The three-day, televised event gave the public great insight into what was going on in the officers' minds on March 28 when they pulled Perez over in a parking lot in North Portland. Macomber said the car Perez was driving, a 1997 Mitsubishi, looked too expensive for the neighborhood. Macomber, who was driving the police car with Sery as his temporary partner that day, says he saw Perez and another man sitting in the parked car. After Sery ran the registration on the car, Macomber says he knew the person he saw in the driver's seat was too young to be the registered owner.

They doubled back around the street. By that time the passenger was gone and Perez turned east on Fessenden Street. The officers claim that when Perez pulled into the parking lot of a laundromat, he engaged his turn signal closer than the required 100 feet from the turn. Macomber approached the car, which had tinted windows, and Perez rolled down the window. This was the point, Sery and Macomber claim, that they first knew that Perez was black. How they could tell how old he was, but not what his skin color was, remains a mystery.

They claim Perez shouted back at them, but then as Macomber asked for a driver's license Perez mumbled answers. Sery stayed behind the car. [KGW: Macomber testifies at 
inquest.] When Perez began digging in his pocket, Macomber tried to control his movements by grabbing his left arm and pushing his head into the steering wheel. Sery moved up behind Macomber at the driver's door. They both instructed Perez to show his hands. Sery claims that when he saw Perez's hand slowly coming out of the right pants pocket which was "bulging," he thought they were in danger. He said "I'm going to shoot."

Macomber moved slightly out of the way and Sery fired three times from a distance of about six feet. Macomber then fired his Taser, which ran continuously for over three minutes. He claims that he didn't know whether Perez was dead and still saw movement. However, since the Taser normally cycles for 5 seconds, emitting a 50,000 volt shock (see Taser article), at some point Macomber must have realized that if Perez were alive he was torturing the man. Apparently, the detectives checking the Taser after the incident found that it no longer functioned properly, probably having overheated.

Sery's cold, formal responses contrasted with Macomber's more emotional tone at the inquest. Sery spoke about being unable to finish a career in the military because of a skiing accident, instead becoming a police officer in Billings, Montana, before transferring to Portland.

The coroner, testifying to the cause of Perez's death, spent most of his time focusing on baggies of drugs supposedly found in Perez's mouth and pants pocket. He testified that he had to pry one of the bags from Perez's teeth to complete the autopsy. However, this does not explain how Perez was able to shout back at the officers when he was first pulled over. It also is not an excuse for killing him--neither Sery nor Macomber said anything about seeing or suspecting possession of drugs. Furthermore, drugs didn't kill him, bullets did.

In short, the officers put Perez in a checkmate: They ordered him to show his hands, but then decided his hands were a threat. He was damned if he pulled his hand out, and damned if he didn't. As it happens, the only things found in his pocket were $7 and other harmless objects.

The piece of testimony that probably cleared Sery in the grand jury was the testimony of Dr. William Lewinski, whose "action-reaction" theory teaches police that if you wait until you see a gun, you will be dead (see PPR #20). The Willamette Week discovered that in 2001, a prosecutor in Columbus, Ohio said, "Dr. Lewinski said that if a police officer perceives a threat, he should shoot. He doesn't consider whether that perception is reasonable" (May 5).

The outcome of the inquest was very limited, as the District Attorney instructed them to answer four questions (who died, when and where did they die, what caused the death, and how did they die?) but not to decide whether there was any criminal activity or negligence. Schrunk claimed this was because the Grand Jury had decided that issue the week before. However, the law governing the Inquest procedure does not prohibit such a judgment.

Ultimately, the Inquest Jury came up with four simple answers, listing Perez, the date and location, the bullets, and homicide as answers to the four questions. Several community members cheered the verdict of "homicide," since Schrunk didn't adequately explain that it simply means one person took another person's life, and that the death was not the result of an accident, a suicide, or natural causes.

In an unusual move, the Inquest Jury wrote a letter to the City, questioning whether Perez was a victim of racial profiling and wondering what would have happened if "tactics and training called for the officers to back off and radio for support" rather than confronting Perez.

Despite the tragic nature of Perez's death, it has spurred more action from various quarters of the City. The usually staid City Club held a May 21 forum titled "Neighborhoods in the Cross Fire: Is Portland Trigger Happy?" featuring Officer Mike Stradley, a Neighborhood Coalition director, and a teenager.

The Coalition of Black Men worked with the Oregon Bar Association to put on a forum May 22 on "Traffic Stops, Civil Rights, and You." The main speaker, Sheryl Robinson, is a consultant with Kroll Government Services who oversees the federal monitoring decree imposed on Detroit, MI. Robinson's advice was fairly routine, suggesting it is usually best to follow police directions and complain about misconduct later. Her most significant comment, highlighted in the May 25 Portland Tribune, was that an independent agency which takes civilian complaints about police but does not have its own investigators is "very unusual" and "not best practices." We have been telling the city that for over twelve years, and it reflects badly on the Independent Police Review Division (IPR--see article).

After the grand jury verdict, two protests took place on April 23 and 24. The second event was organized by Arissa, a group whose previous posters about the Perez case stated "the only thing the police understand is an eye for an eye."

[Observer: Excessive Force 
Resolution Submitted.] The event on the 23rd was co-coordinated by members of the Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA) Ad Hoc Coalition for Community Justice, the Coalition of Black Men, the Portland Unity Coalition, the Urban League, and the Alliance for Police and Community Accountability. Drawing some 250 people in just over a day's notice, the rally called for unity, peace and justice.

The AMA Ad Hoc Coalition continued to press the issues raised by the Kendra James case, still unresolved by the release of the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC) report last August (see PARC article). On June 16, dozens of supporters filled City Council chambers while five community leaders used 3- minute "communications" slots to push the Council for change. They offered a resolution calling for (1) any officer inappropriately using deadly force to be fired or asked to resign, (2) racial diversity training for all officers, (3) an end to racial profiling and (4) an increase in basic training for all officers, as well as changes to state law, the police review board, and a city ordinance against police brutality.

Mayor Katz, recently diagnosed with cancer, was absent that day. Since Katz is the Commissioner of Police, the other four Council members moved on with the agenda. Days later, Commissioner Jim Francesconi (second place in the mayoral primary to former police chief Tom Potter after outspending him 15 to 1) approached the AMA about putting his own version of the resolution on the agenda.

Francesconi's resolution focused on training and labor-management issues, and asked for updated racial profiling data. It watered down the issue of disciplining officers who use lethal force and removed all calls for changes to state laws and the review board. His attempt to get the resolution on the July 14 Council agenda failed when (a) the commissioner-in-charge (the Mayor) wouldn't sign off on it, (b) the Auditor (who heads the IPR) wouldn't sign it, and (c) he could only muster three of the four votes needed to suspend the rules and discuss it.

This process led Commissioner Dan Saltzman to state that the current system is too limiting. On July 21, he introduced an ordinance allowing any Commissioner to bring any measure before the Council. It passed unanimously.

This sounds like a minor procedural issue, but it is actually a ground-breaking measure that will allow any Commissioner to raise questions about either the Police Bureau or the IPR (or any other city agency).

Two weeks later Mayor Katz put her own version of the resolution on the agenda. It retained much of the same language as Francesconi's version but added a re-commitment to community policing. Despite one pillar of that philosophy being accountability, the word accountability was not used in the resolution. On the bright side, it calls for more training for officers to de-escalate situations and to find alternatives to deadly force. Katz's resolution passed unanimously. The AMA Ad Hoc Coalition is continuing to push for all the points raised in their initial proposal.

For more info contact the AMA Ad Hoc Coalition c/o the Allen Temple at 503-287-0261.

On Monday, August 23, as People's Police Report #33 went to press, Officer Jason Sery, who shot James Jahar Perez in March, submitted his resignation to Chief Foxworth . He claims the resignation has nothing to do with the contrversial shooting, but rather is a chance for him to become youth director at his church.

People's Police Report #33 Table of Contents
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