[Headlines and Leo Besner]

Police Shoot Suicidal Portland Man in Back,
Wound Gunman with 38 Shots
...and Sandy/Clackamas Cops Kill Naked Unarmed Man

In the past few months, Portland Police have shot two suspects, bringing the number of officer- involved shootings in 2005 to 8. This is the highest number of shootings since 2001, doubling the 2003 and 2004 totals, and despite a pledge that the introduction of the Taser would reduce instances of deadly force. One of the two suspects lived after a gunbattle that sprayed 43 bullets in an area with nightspots and residences, the other was shot in the back by a police sniper and died. Meanwhile, the Sandy Police and Clackamas County Sheriff's Office caused a stir by shooting and killing an unarmed man who was suffering massive burns.

The most recent Portland shooting happened on November 4, after Raymond Gwerder, 30, called some friends to say he was holding a gun and considering suicide. The friends called the police, and, perhaps so the Bureau could once again enforce Oregon's assisted suicide law, Officer Leo Besner (#27981) of the Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) killed Gwerder with one shot from a Winchester rifle. Gwerder fired his gun once after the police showed up with hostage and crisis negotiators, but to this day nobody has found the bullet. The police apparently had cleared the buildings in the immediate area and Gwerder was in a fenced-in back yard, thus posing no threat to anyone but himself (the police were staying out of view so as not to give him a target).

It was twenty minutes after the victim's gun went off that Besner shot Gwerder. Gwerder had been sitting in the yard, and he stood up, apparently to re-enter the house, when Besner's bullet hit him in the back (Oregonian, November 22). According to the November 24 Oregonian, Besner pulled the trigger out of fear for the neighbors (who probably weren't even there) and without a direct order--or communication with the hostage negotiator, Rae Klein (#8187). That same article revealed that Klein was chatting with Gwerder about his dog when the shot rang out. Since she had no view of the yard, and no communication with Besner, Klein had no idea that Gwerder had been shot for about 20 seconds. "Hello, hello, Raymond, are you there?" she said.

According to sources familiar with the case, Gwerder was drunk and would probably have passed out if the police had waited him out rather than waiting for a "clear shot." Moreover, the fact that Besner was not in the loop prompted Dan Arquilevich, a grand juror in the case, to tell the Oregonian "There was an extreme lack of communication between the hostage negotiation team and SERT, and a glaring lack of overall strategy." Another juror, Jerry Martin, said "I think if there had been better communication....this might not have resulted in a gentleman being shot."

On top of the fact that police shot a man who apparently posed no immediate threat, they shot his corpse afterward with a Taser (Oregonian, November 25), much the same way that an officer tased James Jahar Perez for three minutes as he lay dying last March (PPR #32) and officers tased and shot "bean bag" rounds at Willie Grigsby last November (PPR #34). This issue of abuse of dead or dying persons in the name of safety needs to be addressed.

Perhaps most disturbing, though, is Besner's history. Besner was the subject of two lawsuits from incidents in 2003 that were resolved in the past year: He's one of the cops involved in throwing down and pepper-spraying protestor Bill Ellis at close range during an anti-war protest, settled with other cases for a total of $845,000 (PPR s #32-35); he is also one of the officers who improperly roughed up a young Latina (15-year old Maria-Janeth Rodriguez-Sanchez) and her friend at a Tri-Met stop, ending in a $140,000 settlement (PPR #36). The Police Bureau also found that Besner may have lied during the Ellis case when he claimed in his police report that the man was blocking traffic by holding a protest sign off the curb. Besner also tasered a 71-year-old man in 2004 when the man was attempting to restrain a woman who had a knife (Willamette Week, February 11, 2004).

But wait, there's more: He was also involved in at least two shootings, one of which ended in the apparent suicide of Richard Lynn Smith in August, 1999 (PPR #19--it is not clear whether the police shot bullets that hit Smith), and the other an unknown person with the last name of Brown on July 21, 1999 (this information from the Independent Police Review Division's list of shootings for first PARC report).

[Gradwahl and Derry] All this information adds up to one big question: Why is someone with a history like Besner's trusted to be a police sniper? The grand jury's comments on lack of communication and Besner's comments that he wanted to provide safety for neighbors who were no longer at home leave the impression that this may have been a rogue officer taking matters into his own hands.

The earlier Portland shooting incident was described in the Portland Police Association's newsletter, the Rap Sheet, by its editor, Detective Peter Simpson: "On October 12th, two Portland Police officers survived a gunfight with an 18-year-old punk with a gun." Officers Ryan Derry (#32366) and Chad Gradwahl (#35226) were not hit by any bullets fired by Marcello (spelled Marchelow by the PPB) Vaida near N. Vancouver and Fremont Ave. "It wasn't for lack of trying," says Simpson, though Vaida only shot off 5 bullets while the officers fired 38 rounds, with one officer reloading.

[Gradwahl and Derry] Interestingly, someone called 911 on the night of the shooting to report an armed man knocking at the door. Putting zero and one together, Public Information Officer Brian Schmautz told KOIN-6 TV "There is definitely a second person. At the time the officers initiated the foot pursuit, there was an exchange of gunfire with one suspect and a second armed person who ran toward the apartment complex" (October 12). However, it turned out Vaida had knocked on the apartment door and there was no other suspect at large. This led to the Oregonian's headline "Police hunt for nonexistent suspect." That article, and news focusing on the number of shots fired, made Simpson claim the local media missed the point. He thinks the police were "doing exactly what the community wants them to do:..." shoot a black neighborhood full of bullets--er, oh, I mean "...protect and serve."

Simpson mentions how he visited LA and a member of the SWAT team there talked about a shooting that happened the previous day--"They solved the problem the way you are supposed to...with your front sight." What a nice reaffirmation of the sanctity of human life (included in both the LA and Portland directives on deadly force) and community policing.

The most tragic case and the most prominent in the public eye was the case of Fouad Kaady, 27, who had suffered massive burns when his car caught on fire and was later shot by Clackamas deputy David Willard and Sandy officer William Bergin on September 8th. Not unlike police in Portland, these officers reacted in fear rather than compassion. It seems that seeing a man sitting cross-legged in the road, naked and bleeding, should prompt actions other than attempting to tase him and then shooting him when he climbed on a police cruiser (Oregonian, October 20). From ten feet away, Willard fired three times, and Bergin fired five times; Kaady was hit seven times (Oregonian, October 25).

With a lawyer's help, the family forced the grand jury to hear testimony from all of the witnesses to Kaady's behavior leading up to the shooting. However, there was no indictment for criminal wrongdoing. A number of protestors gathered outside the Clackamas County Courthouse daily for the five-and-a-half day deliberations.

The Oregonian speculated that Kaady may have been suffering from "excited delirium," a state of heightened strength, animalistic growling and irrational behavior that only seems to affect people who end up dead at the hands of police (article and editorial, October 30 and November 1). While they did not state that Kaady was on drugs, it was strongly implied--yet according to friends of the Kaady family, the toxicology test on Kaady found no strong presence of intoxicants. The paper did call for a public inquest into Kaady's death, but with the Grand Jury deliberations completed, an inquest would only bring information to the public, rather than highlight the possible criminal conduct of the officers. The administrative investigation continues, as the family ponders a possible lawsuit.

Also see sidebar on other Oregon area police shootings.

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