Portland Police Experience First Taser-Related Death
The Taser death incident, which occurred March 20 on NE Sandy Blvd at 24th, followed a struggle between officer Paul Park (#29512) and Tim Grant, age 46. Grant had been visiting his sister and a friend in Portland, and was apparently walking in and out of traffic when bystanders tried to assist him, then called 911. When police arrived, they allegedly had trouble getting Grant into custody, yet he was on the ground when Park tasered him in the back and on the neck. One witness says Park used the Taser twice in each location (KATU-TV, March 22). Officers applied CPR, yet claimed Grant was conscious and talking when paramedics took him in their ambulance, where he died on the way to the hospital.
Dr. Karen Gunson, of the always-ready-to-exonerate-the-police State Medical Examiner's office, ruled that the death was due to a cocaine overdose and that the Taser was ruled out as a cause of death. "The fact that he had a Taser applied and then was able to communicate, move and do other activities after the application of the Taser rules it out," she said. "It did not cause a cardiac arrhythmia where we would expect him to be dead immediately upon the Taser application. He was not. There was continued activity and continued vocalization after that." (KATU, March 24). Never mind that several reports have indicated that the effects of a Taser may not be the immediate cause of death and that Taser International themselves admit that tasering may contribute to death (see Taser article).
The shooting death occurred at about 2:15 AM on January 4th, when PPB Lieutenant Jeffrey Kaer (#23818) arrived to check out a personal call from his sister regarding a man sitting in a car across the street from her house. Kaer, on duty in SE Precinct, went out of his jurisdiction to check on the car. For some reason, he never checked the license plate before calling for backup (Oregonian, March 18). He knocked on the window, startling Dennis Young, 28. Kaer opened the door, shook Young awake, and allegedly tried to get hold of him. Young gunned the engine, driving across the street into a tree.
Kaer and the backup officer, Lawrence Keller (#16483) say Young then backed up the car toward them and Kaer fired for fear of his life. Keller then tasered Young, making this the fourth incident we know of (following Kendra James, Jahar Perez, Willie Grigsby) where police tasered a mortally wounded suspect. In three of these cases--James, Perez, and Young--the suspects were unarmed and inside vehicles.
Here are two major questions about Kaer's actions:
1) did he violate the new PPB policy on shooting at moving cars, which prohibits shooting unless there is a secondary threat (like a vehicle occupant shooting from the vehicle) or there is no way to get out of the way? and
2) by taking the highly unusual action of responding on scene to his sister's call, did he violate the directive prohibiting using police powers in personal disputes? (Would he have acted the same way if the call hadn't been to a relative's home?)
Ron Schwartz, Vice President of the Commanding Officers Association, admitted that it was "not common for commanding officers" to be involved in shooting incidents (Oregonian, January 5).
More interestingly, KOIN-TV (6) showed the car being towed away on its January 4 news. The footage revealed a bullet hole in the driver's door, indicating that Kaer was next to, not behind the car when he fired.
Several older cases had interesting developments as well. In January, arbitrator John C. Truesdale ordered the City to overturn the suspension of Officer Scott McCollister for shooting Kendra James at a traffic stop in May, 2003 (PPR #30-31). Moreover, the City was ordered to pay his back wages with benefits and interest (to the tune of some $25,000KGW-TV, January 19) and expunge the incident from his record.
Truesdale wrote, "The failure to conduct an IAD investigation led to the fatal gap in the information available to the Chief on which to base his decision" (Oregonian, January 20). He noted that then-Chief Kroeker relied on the criminal reports, videotaped reconstruction and Commander's after-action reports to suspend McCollister for 5-1/2 months. Kroeker "was striving to make a conscientious decision while swept up in a maelstrom of public opinion."
Kroeker defended himself, saying that he was trying to send the message that "being in a vulnerable situation may lead unnecessarily to further devastation."
Responding to these developments, Dr. T. Allen Bethel of the Albina Ministerial Alliance told the Oregonian that "It doesn't make any difference what happens, we can't get accountability for any officer who takes the life of a citizen."
Some key facts about Truesdale's decision-making:
--He cautioned the Bureau that they have no training on what to do when two officers deploy a Taser and a gun side by side (perhaps leading in some way to the Young incident?).
--He heard from the training division and "an outside expert" to decide McCollister did not violate Bureau policy.
On the matter of these "outside experts," a late January filing in the case of Jahar Perez revealed that the City of Portland hired Dr. Bill Lewinski to testify at the grand jury hearing determining whether Officer Jason Sery committed a crime when he shot Perez in March, 2004 (PPR #32). The January 25 Oregonian quotes Marge Paris of the University of Oregon School of Law, who said "the concern would be that this is somebody who is uniquely presenting one particular side-- the prosecution totally controls what the grand jury sees and hears." They also quote Mike Gennaco of the LA County Office of Independent Review, who called such a move "unusual" and stated "you'd hope experts are neutral and not being paid."
Deputy City Attorney Dave Woboril dismisses the complaints, saying Lewinski, who was paid $6294, was merely "educating" the jury about the "action/reaction" principles of police shooting incidents. At the public inquest on the shooting, Lewinski testified that a person can pull a gun out in 1/10th of a second, prompting DA Mike Schrunk to ask the leading question: "In other words, if I see the gun, I'm dead?" Lewinski agreed. Clearly, this is not an unbiased process.
Perez family Attorney Elden Rosenthal called the use of an expert in the usually closed grand jury process a matter of "grave public importance." Rosenthal's case suffered a setback a few weeks earlier. On January 10, Judge Michael Mosman rejected Rosenthal's argument that Portland's deadly force policy is unconstitutional. Whereas the Supreme Court set a standard of "probable cause" for using deadly force, Portland allows officers to shoot based on "reasonable belief." Mosman said the Supreme Court ruling only applies to fleeing suspects. He also refused to allow Rosenthal to argue that Perez was racially profiled.
However, Judge Mosman did not dismiss the case altogether, saying "in the light most favorable to [Perez], Officer Sery shot an unarmed man, whose arms were raised above his head while he was still seatbelted in his car and who committed a minor traffic violation" (Oregonian, January 11).
News in the case of Raymond Gwerder, shot by sniper Officer Leo Besner in November while talking to a negotiator about his dog (see PPR #37), includes information gathered by the Oregonian. Recordings and documents show that Commander Mike Crebs had disagreements with the Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) Lieutenant, Joe Stidham. Crebs urged Stidham to allow the Hostage Negotiation Team (HNT) to begin a dialogue with Gwerder right away, to evacuate the next door neighbor and her children, and not to pull up in an armored vehicle as a show of force. There was also confusion as to who was the liaison between SERT and the HNT.
Significantly, SERT supervisors wanted Gwerder to go inside, where he was less likely to harm officers, while Besner shot him to prevent him from going inside (Oregonian, December 22).
Crebs told investigators, "The shot just came outta nowhere..I thought we were talking to the guy," and "I didn't want to see it end like this."
Meanwhile, Officer Kai Ho, who shot and killed Vernon Allen in May, 2005 (PPR #36), resigned from the force in December (Rap Sheet, February 2006). Sources tell us that Ho was the officer investigated for marijuana use, leading to scrutiny on drug testing for police (PPR #37). In 1992, Officer Brad Benge shot a man and later left the force after taking marijuana from the evidence room (PPR #6).
One final Portland update: The family of Jose Padilla, who was shot in January, 2004 at the Greyhound Station downtown by officer Brian Hubbard (PPR #32) filed a lawsuit on December 29. They alleged the Bureau rushed to shoot Padilla, didn't call in the proper police units, and ignored the woman being held at knifepoint by Padilla who told police not to shoot (Oregonian, January 4).
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