People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Other Information Contact info
Portland Police Shoot, Kill Third Person in Mental Health Crisis in
The Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA) Coalition for Justice and Police Reform raised the question of why Otis was pulled over in the first place. Members of the HEAT team, assigned at the time to the Lloyd Center area to confront so-called "gang" problems, spotted Otis in his mother's Toyota. He was wearing a hoodie and slouched in the driver's seat, leading Officer Ryan Foote (#43493) to believe he "looks like he could be a gangster." He also said Otis didn't "fit the car," the same racially biased explanation given by officers who pulled over and shot James Jahar Perez in 2004 (PPR #33). In fact, Officer James Defrain (#44436), riding with Foote, says he asked, "are you seriously going to run that plate?" When it came back as belonging to a middle aged woman, they immediately began wondering whether Otis had stolen the car--even though it was not reported stolen.
As officers followed him, they became more suspicious because he was "looking funny" and staring at them in the side view mirror (though early reports said they were concerned because he would not look at them at all). Foote and Defrain were in an unmarked police car, which might explain why a driver would wonder who was following him. Otis allegedly failed to signal when he changed lanes, and failed to signal early enough before a turn, another reason Perez was pulled over--also known as a pretext stop.* Police say they pulled Otis over once using the car's lights and siren, and he drove away from that stop. When they got him pulled over again, they used the police car to make it more difficult for him to drive away. Also at the stop was Officer Cody Berne (#45662) who had also seen and followed Otis. They approached, Defrain with his gun drawn, and Otis allegedly started yelling at them-- including, according to Defrain, "put your fucking gun away." They ordered Otis to put his hands on his head, but he kept holding on tightly to the steering wheel. They called for backup, which arrived in the form of Officer Chris Burley (#45975) with Andrew Polas (#43489), and Sgt. Don Livingston (#32588) with Officer Pat Murphy (#44162).
Burley reached through the driver's window and grabbed hold of one of Otis' hands to try pulling him from the car, while Defrain was opening the door and reaching in (in apparent violation of policies changed after Kendra James' death [PPR #30]). Otis moved away, pulling Burley to the door and pinching Defrain's right arm. Defrain tried grabbing Otis through the window with his left arm. Otis pulled free, Sgt. Livingston gave a warning and fired his Taser. Unsure whether it worked, he advised other officers to also use Tasers. Foote and Murphy fired their electroshock weapons almost simultaneously. Considering that the most recent PARC report cautioned against the use of a single Taser more than three times, what might using three Tasers at once do to a person? Incidentally, Murphy admitted firing his Taser without giving a warning, a violation of Bureau policy.
The officers claim Otis then grabbed a purple Royal Crown bag from the glove compartment and fired two shots from a 9mm pistol in the bag. Officer Burley was hit in the upper legs by two bullets and fell to the ground. Forensics has matched the one bullet found that hit Burley to the gun, but no evidence we know of has yet proven that Otis fired that gun. Officer stories differ on whether the gun was in the bag (which had no bullet holes in it), only one shell casing was recovered in the car, and the medical examiner apparently did not test for gunpowder on Otis. Three officers fired their weapons: Defrain 15 times, Berne 11 times and Polas 6 times. They did not appear to be worried about their "backstop" as Officer Murphy had to dive for cover on the passenger side, and one of the 9 bullets that did not hit Otis landed in a Radio Shack 2 blocks from the scene.
Responding to the scene, Officer Aaron Dauchy (of "beanbag girl" fame--PPR #49) shot three lead-pellet bag shotgun rounds at Otis, now mortally wounded and stretched over to the passenger side door, partway out of the car. Determining he was dead, they dragged his body to the ground, where he remained for hours. In contrast, officers picked up Burley, threw him in a police car and zipped him to the hospital.
A video of the incident, taken from about a block away on a cell phone, makes it difficult to tell how much of the officers' account of the story is accurate.
In addition to other apparent breaches of policy, it was noted that the HEAT team did not create a plan on how to get Otis out of the car because they pretty much knew what the others were thinking. That a supervisor on scene should create a plan was a recommendation by both PARC and the community-- and two PPB sergeants recently received a "life saving" medal for making a plan to approach a couple in a domestic dispute involving gunfire (Rap Sheet, May 2010).
The Otis incident occurred mere hours after Mike Reese was sworn in as the new Chief (p. 4). Reese went to the scene and made mostly neutral statements. However, after the Bureau released the police reports, Reese "defended the officers' actions and didn't appear disturbed by the number of shots fired." (Except as noted, all above quotes from the June 2 Oregonian and police reports.)
The Portland Police Association (PPA) ran several stories in their Rap Sheet newsletter, which revealed interesting facts about the HEAT team and other "gang" policing. In May, interim PPA President Dave Dobler said that the team had 25,000 contacts and 3500 arrests in a two year period-- meaning an average of 34 stops and nearly 5 arrests per day. That same issue describes an "Achievement Award" given to officers John Elliot and Aaron Sparling for their "aggressive" patrols in East Precinct, making a "significant number of traffic and subject stops involving every gang known to operate in the area." They created a database which led to a "secret indictment" of one suspect for murder. Interesting the database was created although the city was sued in 1994 and had to throw out their "Gang list" due to its unconstitutional nature (PPR #9).
Portland Copwatch sent a letter to District Attorney Michael Schrunk, advising him that if officers used the Tasers simply because Otis was failing to follow commands, they could be violating Bureau policy and the Bryan v. McPherson case (PPR #50). We noted "we are part of a peace group, and we do not want to see anyone get shot, be they civilians or police officers, and that everyone's goal in interactions with police should be for everyone to go home safe at night." We added, though, that the State v. Oliphant case (also PPR #50) assuring Oregonians' right to self defense against excessive police force, may also apply to this incident: "Isn't it possible that, based on... the overwhelming number of officers, and the fact that [Otis] was a young African American man suffering from mental health issues in a city where people in either one of those groups might reasonably fear for their lives at a police encounter, he had a right to self-defense?" Schrunk replied that he was going to brief the jury on "all relevant Oregon law." Unsurprisingly, the grand jury did not indict the officers for criminal conduct.
The AMA Coalition continued its search for justice for Aaron Campbell, shot in the back by Officer Ron Frashour's sniper rifle in January. Partly to develop community demands to present to the Mayor and Chief, the Coalition held a public forum on May 20 at the First Unitarian Church. In a powerful moment, Otis' biological father spoke out, saying "Enough is enough. Every time somebody goes, it affects so many people" (Portland Mercury, May 27). The AMA Coalition presented a list of 37 community demands, some of them dating back to the death of Jos?Mej? Poot in 2001 (PPR #24), to Chief Reese at a meeting in June. While some of those demands also touched on the Jack Collins and Keaton Otis shootings, more recommendations are forthcoming.
On May 17, a memorial service for Collins was held at St Francis Parish, a place he frequently ate meals. Four days later, the Oregonian reported that William Collins, a Portland security guard, filed a tort claim notice against the City for excessive force when they shot Jack Collins, asking for $75,000.
In the July Rap Sheet, Dr. Bill Lewinski at the Force Science Research Center claims a healthy person can sprint 31 feet before an officer can draw and fire a weapon. If this was published to silence criticism of the Collins shooting, we'd note Collins was lumbering toward Officer Walters, not sprinting, and Walters already had his gun drawn. Lewinski himself says officers should "look at threat, intent, and opportunity... that doesn't mean the little old lady in a walker with a butter knife is a threat because she's within 31 feet."
DON'T WOUND 'EM, KILL 'EM Former prosecutor Jeff Chudwin, now of the Olympia Fields, IL PD, says: "[The] law doesn't suggest that deadly force should be just enough to wound but with no probability of death. That's plain wrong legally and tactically and it sends the wrong message." Don Avery, a firearms instructor, says: "You don't just try to wound people with a gun. Period" (Rap Sheet, June 2010).
It's fortunate for former Auditor Gary Blackmer that he is no longer in that office; when he and his staff kept implying that the number of shootings in Portland were going down because of their work at the Independent Police Review Division, we said we would march on his office once they went up again. There were only two shootings in each of 2007 and 2008, and one in 2009; with three in just the first five months of this year, Portland is part of a trend of growing law enforcement-related deaths in Oregon (See article Other Shootings).
The AMA Coalition will hold a Mobilization for Justice and Police Accountability on Saturday, September 25. Check our website at www.portlandcopwatch.org for more info.
Portland Copwatch Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability
through citizen action.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.