People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Two stories about private security guards in Portland reinforce concerns that there are no adequate systems in place to hold rent-a-cops accountable (see IPR article in this article). The more recent incident happened on February 7, when animal rights activist Matt Rossell was protesting a pet store at the Lloyd Center mall and was tackled by a security guard there. The guard claimed he had previously warned Rossell to never come back to the mall or he would be arrested; Rossell denies that exclusion order ever took place. Rossell was charged with trespass and disorderly conduct, though video taken of the incident may help him prove his innocence. The Portland Mercury, in its February 12 issue, revealed that the Lloyd Center's security manual prohibits violence: "We do not detain, restrain, nor use force to resolve conflicts or disruptions... A security officer should never confuse his/her role and function with that of a police officer." The manual restricts use of force for defensive purposes only. The head of mall security, former Clackamas County Sheriff's Deputy Mark Hanson, would not comment on whether guards were repeatedly violating the guidelines.
Earlier, a private security guard broke a man's index finger and pepper sprayed him in the face in a
May, 2007 incident which came to light at the end of last year through the Mercury.
Portland Patrol Inc. (PPI) Officer Ron Cash broke Steven Lee Johnson's finger during an
"altercation" in Waterfront Park. Again, PPI has a policy of not using force. Johnson
admits that at some point he hit Officer Cash, and PPI also allows its officers to defend themselves;
the question is, was any of Cash's violence necessary just to get Johnson to leave the park with his
friend who was homeless? (Mercury, December 4 and 25).
Not far from Berkeley, CA, the birthplace of the modern Copwatch movement, BART transit officer Johannes Mehserle shot and killed a young black man, Oscar Grant, at point blank range on an Oakland rail station platform in front of dozens of witnesses. The December 31 shooting was caught on video, and sparked immense outrage in the area, prompting the creation of an Oakland branch of Copwatch and an arrest warrant for Mehserle, who fled to Nevada shortly after the incident occurred. Mehserle was arrested and brought back to California (Associated Press, January 8 and 14).
The officer claimed that he accidentally pulled his gun instead of his Taser, or at least that's what he
originally said. He later changed his story to say he thought Grant was armed and said nothing
about his Taser. In its February issue of the Rap Sheet, the Portland Police Association ran
an AP article revealing this fact under the headline "California Cop who killed man pulled gun
instead of Taser," ignoring that he changed his story later.
Three Atlanta officers who shot and killed Kathryn Johnston. a 92-year-old grandmother who was
falsely accused of dealing drugs, were convicted and sentenced for their actions. One of the officers,
Jason Smith, planted marijuana after the killing; another, Gregg Junnier, created the problem in part
by circulating "handoffs," or unverified information that cops pretended they knew first
hand. The third, Arthur Tesler, was convicted though he was "just following orders." Smith was
sentenced to 10 years for, among other things, obtaining the illegal warrant that led to the raid,
which provoked the frightened Johnston to fire a gun at the officers when she thought her home
was being invaded by criminals. Junnier got six years and Tesler will serve five, all in the federal
jail system (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 23).
A law being considered in Montreal, Canada, would criminalize insulting police. Though some rational people are realizing this law will be an infringement on free expression, Mayor Gerald Tremblay is considering the idea to prevent terms such as "pig" and "doughnut eater" from being used. Apparently, some form of this law already exists in Quebec City and other localities in Canada. The city was also reportedly looking at a law to stop protestors from covering their faces (Canadian Press, January 27).
Meanwhile, an anti-terrorism law in England now makes it illegal to "elicit, publish or
communicate information" about police or members of the military. While the officers can
waive the prohibition at their discretion, many in Britain are opposed to the law as it will take away
the ability to document police misconduct. A previous law passed in 2000 (prior to 9/11) allows
police to question anyone taking photographs of airports, government buildings or railroads
(Canadian Broadcasting Centre, February 16).
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.