Attorney General Issues Report on Police Use of Deadly Force:
Suggests Publishing Grand Jury Testimony
The report rejects the concept of having the Attorney General's office (AG) take over the prosecution from District Attorneys (DAs) in cases involving officer use of deadly force. Despite concerns expressed by the community about the apparent conflict of interest this presents the DAs (who need to work with police on a daily basis to prosecute others), the AG seems to feel that since DAs are elected, the community can hold them accountable over what will be perhaps four to ten cases a year in a city the size of Portland.
The report also rejects the idea of setting statewide standards for when police may use deadly force, leaving such details to the discretion of individual communities.
The task force, which was made up of 86 individuals, most of whom were police chiefs, officers, or their attorneys (only seven "citizen participants" are listed in the roster) focused much of its energy on trying to get the community to understand how difficult it is to be an officer. We do not debate that being a police officer is not an easy job; however, the end result of this report might be the escalation of police use of force. The community is being asked to accept that deadly force is inevitable, and not to be outraged even in situations in which the person who is shot was unarmed and posed no real threat.
The report does capture, in the form of interspersed quotes, some of the public's concerns: a black man fearing being approached by an officer at a traffic stop; the need for more de-escalation training; and the suggestion that officers should consider retreat as a viable option. However, most of these concepts are not included in the main body of the report.
The report also recommends writing into law that inquest juries, which determine who died, when they died, where they died, and how they died, not be held until after a grand jury hearing for officers. The inquest in the James Jahar Perez case was delayed until after the grand jury only because the Portland Police Association threatened to sue the District Attorney (see PPR #32). However, the 1985 inquest jury in the death of Tony Stevenson returned a verdict of "negligent homicide," which gave the grand jury reason to indict the officer who killed Stevenson with a choke hold. The officer was not indicted. Given law enforcement demands to have as much testimony as possible heard behind closed doors, the codification of this order of events seems only to serve police interests, not the public's.
Like the PARC report, the AG's report glosses over the question of race, despite the high percentage of people of color shot and killed in Portland in the last few years. It does recommend expanded cultural sensitivity training depending on the needs of each community in Oregon.
Interestingly, the report reveals that in some jurisdictions (Marion County and Jackson County's protocols are included as examples), officers may be requested to take an alcohol/intoxicant blood/urine test. Many people in Portland have wondered why that is not standard procedure after shootings that occur here. The report notes that these tests are not consistently applied, but stops short of recommending that such tests be part of every investigation.
Overall, it is good that the AG convened the task force and issued the report. In part, it was done to address bills currently before the Oregon legislature, introduced by former Rep. Joe Smith and current Sen. Avel Gordly. On the other hand, since the AG only held a small number of "listening sessions" with members of the public, many concerns remain unaddressed.
The AG's report is available on line at http://www.doj.state.or.us/pdfs/deadlyforce.pdf.
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