People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Police Shoot Fleeing Black Man in the Back (again),
Since mid-April, the Portland Police have admitted to shooting at three people-- a 17 year old black teenager who was running away from them (shades of Aaron Campbell), a 28 year old white man driving a car, and a 25 year old suspect who was not hit. The teen was hit in the leg and lived; the older man, Billy Wayne Simms, was shot six times and died. There were also three incidents in which people died in proximity to the police who were surrounding them, which were reported as suicides. Portland Copwatch (PCW) is calling attention to these three incidents because it serves the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) to write them off as suicides rather than deaths in police custody while the Bureau is being scrutinized for its use of force by the US Dept. of Justice (PPR #54). Meanwhile, the Police Review Board released its twice-yearly report, listing three more police shootings that they found to be completely within policy; an arbitrator overturned the discipline in the James Chasse, Jr. case; there have been developments in the shooting cases of Aaron Campbell, Keaton Otis and William Monroe; and the OIR Group released a report on seven police shootings from 2004-2010 (see article).
The teen had been under surveillance by (who else) the PPB's Gang Enforcement Team and Gun Task Force, as part of a federal investigation. They released images of the teen showing a gun to other people prior to getting into a car on July 17. When officers pulled the car over, three others complied, but when they asked the teen to lift up his shirt, he refused, then started to run. Officer Dennis Wilcox (#24189), who was one of the officers that shot Jonah Potter in March (PPR #56), fired a "beanbag" round, which reportedly had no effect; rookie Officer Gregory Moore (#51791) shot his firearm and wounded the teen. Since the teen did not apparently pose an imminent threat to anyone (one of the reasons that Chief Reese gave for firing Ron Frashour in the Aaron Campbell shooting), it is possible that Moore will face scrutiny, if not discipline.
As for Simms, he allegedly had fired shots from his car at another car earlier on July 28, then officers caught up with him at a convenience store in North Portland. Simms got into his car and began to drive away when Officer Justin Clary (#40926) opened fire with an AR-15 rifle, killing Simms. The car was near propane tanks and crossed busy Fessenden St. after Simms was shot, crashing into an empty apartment. The media were quick to note that Clary was awarded for his participation in the incident where police shot at Ralph Turner last year. Some officers were injured, but Turner was taken into custody without injury (PPR #53). Clary also was involved in shooting two Rottweilers in October, 2002 while he was a rookie (PPR #23).
The first two recent shootings appear to be based on the suspects being armed rather than whether they were posing any immediate threat to officers or the public. When shooting Simms, Clary may have violated Bureau policy which restricts officers' shooting at moving vehicles unless there is an "active threat of death or serious physical injury," and cautions officers that "a moving vehicle may become an uncontrolled deadly weapon." An Auditor's report on police learning reveals that the PPB never engaged in training on shooting at vehicles despite recommendations to do so (see article).
On August 21, PPB Detective Travis Fields (#40613), assisting Washington County deputies and federal marshals, shot at and missed Michael Anthony Tate, Jr., 25 (Oregonlive, August 21). Tate injured himself jumping from a third story window.
While these were the third through fifth official PPB shootings of the year (a sixth involved the Washington County SWAT team under the supervision of the PPB's Gang Enforcement Team shooting a homeowner who mistook them for burglars [PPR #56]), three proximity deaths in a two week period raised concerns. On April 16, Ervin Jeff Dirnbaugh, 30, a suspect for firing a gun the previous day, was chased by officers downtown, where he ran inside a building. According to news reports, after officers surrounded Dirnbaugh, he jumped off the roof, dying from his injuries (Oregonian, April 17). On April 25, Christopher Karl Bullert, 48, supposedly shot himself after officers responded to a call that he was suicidal. KATU reported that the police fired 37mm plastic "less lethal" rounds into the man's home "to break windows in order to look into the house." There was no mention of whether the rounds may have hit Bullert. Officers entered the home hours later and found Bullert dead. On April 29, 44 year old John Wimberly Smith was surrounded by police after a woman called saying he'd threatened her. While she got out of the apartment and Smith released three children as well, officers continued operations, including playing recordings of relatives, deploying teargas, and sending in a robot, which then found Smith dead of an alleged self-inflicted gunshot wound (PPB news release, April 29).
The police didn't necessarily use violence or cover up the causes of death, but the Department of Justice should include these incidents in their audit of Bureau use of force. It's unlikely the "Independent" Police Review Division (IPR) will look at them, since they shrugged off most responsibility for the Washington County SWAT shooting.
Another layer of oversight in Portland, the internal-to-the-Bureau Police Review Board (PRB), released its report in early July with compact, heavily redacted reports showing barebones information about many cases, including three shootings. They found nothing wrong with the officers shooting Marcus Lagozzino in December 2010, even though he was a person clearly in mental health crisis and officers had made a plan to take him into custody that apparently didn't include what to do if he came at them with the machete he was holding (PPR #53). In fact, the PRB proposed using the shooting as a training aid of how to do things right. The PRB also ruled that the officers who approached Darryel Ferguson's apartment at 3 AM that same month and then riddled him (and the apartment) full of bullets (PPR #52) were within policy, though three of the Board's seven members suggested a debriefing on the fact that they didn't identify themselves as officers. Most disturbingly, in the shortest report, the officers who shot and killed homeless veteran Thomas Higginbotham when he allegedly came at them with a knife in January 2011 (PPR #53) supposedly did nothing wrong. This is of concern because Officer Larry Wingfield (#26849) told investigators that he regretted getting so deep into the abandoned car wash where Higginbotham was staying that the officers had no easy retreat; in other words, they put themselves into a position where they felt their deadly force was necessary, which is against Bureau policy.
The question remains for all three victims whether notification was sent of their right to appeal the findings to the IPR's Citizen Review Committee, which hears appeals of cases investigated by Internal Affairs and, according to the City Code adopted in 2010, by the PRB. As noted in PPR #56, in February, Keaton Otis' father Fred Bryant had an attorney request an appeal on Otis' case; IPR has not responded. This question may be of most significance to Lagozzino, the only one of the four people who survived a shooting.
In other developments, Bryant organized a May 12 memorial, exactly two years since Keaton was shot 23 times by police after being pulled over for "looking like a gangster" (PPR #51). A number of community organizers spoke about the issues of the incident and broader concerns about police use of deadly force. At the July monthly vigil for Keaton, held each month on the 12th, Bryant released photos of his son's corpse showing bullet holes which could indicate that Keaton had his hands up as requested by the police. The photos are not definitive, but raise questions just as the video of Keaton's death did.
On July 12, an arbitrator ruled the City was wrong to discipline Sgt. Kyle Nice and Officer Chris Humphreys for their roles in the death of James Chasse (PPR #49), and ordered their records erased and back-pay for the 80-hour suspensions. Chasse's father and brother decried the City's inability to hold officers accountable.
In May and June, the fight by the Portland Police Association to force the City to re-hire Officer Frashour heated up. A decision by the Employment Relations Board (ERB) is expected soon on whether the City violated the PPA contract (or state law) in refusing to obey the arbitrator's decision to reinstate Frashour (PPR #56). The Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA) Coalition for Justice and Police Reform filed an amicus brief with the ERB noting the City has a duty to keep Frashour off the force to protect the public. PPA Attorney Will Aitchison's filing drew attention to the AMA Coalition's brief while dismissing it as insignificant. (For more on the arbitration smackdown, see "Rapping Back," back page). The Portland Mercury ran a good piece on its blog (April 20) showing that while the PPA decided not to pursue 16 grievances (including one on behalf of road-ragey ex-PPA President Scott Westerman) and settled with the city in 29 of 48 arbitrations from 2002-2012, they always defended (and won) cases involving deadly force.
Last, an update on the first ever criminal prosecution of a Portland officer for on-duty use of force: Dane Reister (#31663) appeared in court in mid-May while Judge Jean Maurer heard motions. Reister shot William Monroe in the back with live rounds from a "less lethal" shotgun last June (PPR #54). One outcome of the hearing was that Reister's previous misloading of a weapon, a crowd control gun used in training, would be allowed as evidence in the trial (Oregonian, July 3). At a late July hearing, administrative papers were signed but the public was not allowed in the court. It appears one of the two charges against Reister is being dropped and the Judge may reverse her decision on admitting the previous ammo mix-up. The DA is appealing that reversal.
AMA Coalition for Justice and Police Reform:
Justice for Keaton Otis facebook page:
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.