People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Portland Police Officers Present As Railroad Cop Shoots Man
Although the official story is that a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway officer shot and injured 43-year-old George Hawkins in North Portland on October 25, the fact that multiple Portland officers were present, including one who fired a Taser at Hawkins, concerns us. No other Portland Police-related shootings of humans have been reported since May, 2008, but they shot a dog on November 24. Also, City Council voted to settle lawsuits filed by the families of James Jahar Perez, shot and killed by Officer Jason Sery in 2005 (PPR #32), for $350,000, and Dennis Young, killed by Lt. Jeffrey Kaer in 2006 (PPR #38) for $200,000.
According to the October 28 Oregonian, Hawkins was identified by BNSF railway officer John Ross as having a warrant on him. When Hawkins ran away, Ross called for the Portland Police. Two officers arrived with a police dog and found the man in a "transient camp." They say the structure Hawkins was in caught fire and that he came at police with a knife. Although Portland Police always say they shoot at the body mass because you can only shoot at arms or legs in the movies, Ross shot Hawkins in the hands--twice, leading to his arrest. By the way, we had no idea the railway had its own police, did you?
One of the Oregonian articles on the shooting said Hawkins was carrying a gas can that he was trying to ignite while also holding the knife (October 27), quite an interesting physical feat.
Meanwhile, the City settled out-of-court with the families of Perez and Young, meaning that among other things, there will be no public airing of facts or court-ordered policy changes.
Mayor Tom Potter released a statement about the Perez settlement, which is the fourth-highest shooting settlement by the City since 1993, that "any loss of life diminishes not only a family and the officers involved, but our entire community." His statement also encouraged "working together to break down the stereotypes that keep us from being true partners" and hoped the settlement would bring closure for all involved (Oregonian, September 3). The Oregonian wrote an editorial connecting both new training for officers to avoid making deadly force "inevitable" and the Perez case to the death of James Chasse (left), noting that there is no way to know if the new policies would have changed the outcome of either incident (September 7).
In response, Officer Peter Taylor wrote an op-ed (September 10) that insists officers have "always been encouraged--and trained--to avoid deadly force." He adds that the reason officers put themselves in dangerous situations is to protect bystand-ers--never mind that had the bullet aimed at Perez missed, it could have hit any number of people in the immediate area. Taylor insists that there has been no training on how to extract people from cars, conduct foot chases (like the one that led to Chasse's death), or what to do if a person with mental illness runs away or struggles with police. He takes the Oregonian to task for "diminishing the contributions of police" and "damaging the police-public trust."
Attorney Elden Rosenthal released his own statement, asserting "Mr. Perez's tragic death did not have to happen... The Perez family hopes that this settlement will provide some closure to the community, and that the city will now make the necessary changes in how it trains and educates its police officers in the proper use of deadly force."
The Young settlement, which becomes the sixth-highest after the one for Bruce Browne in 2003 (PPR #29), also prompted Potter to express his hope for "closure" ( Mercury blog, October 3). Stephanae Ennis, Young's mother, told the Oregonian that she remained "heartbroken" and said that "no amount of money... will bring my boy back" (October 4). Potter fired Kaer and an arbitrator later reinstated him (PPR #45). Whatever his reservations were, Potter said that officers have the right to defend themselves.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.