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Even as Movie on James Chasse's Death Exposes Indifference of Cops

While the Department of Justice continues to push the City of Portland to reform how its police interact with people experiencing mental illness to address excessive force claims (right), officers shot and killed two men clearly experiencing crises within three weeks' time. Adding to the "what part of this do you not understand" litany, the first shooting came just two days after the Mayor declared he wanted to see change, having watched the documentary "Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse." One of the men was armed only with a telephone handset.

The first police shooting came on February 17, after Merle Hatch, 50, was reported to have threatened a security guard at Adventist Medical Center with a gun. Transcripts of the grand jury proceedings (which ended, as usual, with no indictment of the officers) do not indicate anywhere whether the many officers who showed up on the scene and surrounded Hatch in an employee parking lot tried to provide Hatch with a communication device or ask him what he was saying. (And no, we're not suggesting he could have plugged in the phone handset he had broken off and pretended was a gun... how about a radio, cell phone or bullhorn, for instance?)

Toward the end of the five to ten minute standoff, Hatch climbed on top of a car and then came down, first walking, then running toward the police and counting down from three to one. The police used this countdown as an excuse to open fire, with 6 of their 19 bullets hitting and killing Hatch. Officer Royce Curtiss (#46427) fired four handgun rounds, Officer Andrew Hearst (#50996) fired his AR-15 rifle five times, and Sgt. Nathan Voeller (#37566), who was involved in the strangely similar shooting of David Hughes in 2006 (PPR #40) shot ten rounds from his 9 mm gun. Interestingly, Officer Richard Budry and Sergeant John Clinton chose not to shoot, in part because they knew other officers had guns, with Budry specifically saying he didn't think Hatch posed him a threat in the position he was located. Clinton saw after the shooting that there was no gun, and told the grand jury he was worried how that would look when the news got out. Before they went to cuff Hatch, the police released a dog, who dragged him one or two feet from the plastic phone handle. Incidentally, the DA seemed to go out of his way to make sure the grand jury knew the police thought there was a gun, though at least one witness (James Linkous, a civilian ride-along) never even mentioned seeing a "weapon" on Hatch.

Interestingly, the cops say they shot at Hatch when he was about 40 feet away from them. The reason a Taser has wires that are 21 feet long is that is the magical distance an officer is supposed to be worried about a suspect approaching. In other words, they shot Hatch when he was twice as far away as they are supposedly trained.

Once again, Hatch was demonized by the City and the media, as he had a criminal record and was wanted by federal marshals for failure to report. He also allegedly robbed two Portland area banks in the days before his death. However, officers had none of this information at the time--only that a man who had been in the psychiatric ward of a hospital was wandering around the hospital grounds making threats.

Not long afterward, on March 4, officers shot and killed Santiago Cisneros III, 32, after he allegedly pointed and fired a shotgun at them. The story is that Officers Bradley Kula (#39879) and Michele Boer (#49920) were talking out their police car windows to each other atop a parking garage in the Lloyd Center area when Cisneros drove up behind them. Boer then drove around behind Cisneros, who they say then pulled a shotgun out of his trunk and fired it, hitting Boer's passenger side hood. Mind you, Cisneros was a trained member of the U.S. Army who had been in Iraq, yet he supposedly could not hit two police officers at close range with a shotgun. According to the Oregonian (March 23), Kula "emptied his 9mm handgun, firing 18 rounds" while Boer fired just four bullets. Of the 22 shots, Cisneros was hit eight times. (Making their hit rate of 36% just higher than the three officers shooting at Hatch with a 32% hit rate.) Although there has been talk in the media that Cisneros planned to be killed by the police, his mother was listening over the phone during the entire incident and disagrees with the police version of the story (KING-TV, March 10). Unfortunately, she did not appear at the grand jury, declining through her attorney.

Both men were clearly experiencing mental health crises, and both men are now dead at the hands of the Portland Police. In 2006, Officer Chris Humphreys, Sgt. Kyle Nice and Multnomah County Deputy Bret Burton beat to death James Chasse, Jr., a man suffering from schizophrenia (PPR #40). "Alien Boy" recounts Chasse's life as a musician and artist before he became a more reclusive person struggling with his illness, but its most powerful moments come from recorded depositions of the officers casually repeating their (highly dubious) telling of what happened when they encountered Chasse. The film opened at the Portland International Film Festival on February 15, and Mayor Charlie Hales was clearly disturbed at what had happened. Unfortunately, even though part of the story involved the police trying to denigrate Chasse through lies (about a criminal history he did not have, and about a bag of bread crumbs they alleged were drugs), Hales participated in the news conference days later in which Merle Hatch's criminal record was heavily repeated, while the history of the officers (particularly Sgt. Voeller) was not even mentioned. Similarly, Officer Boer was arrested on assault charges in 2010 for a drunken brawl in a restaurant caught on video...but the victim didn't pursue the charges (Willamette Week, October 10, 2010).

Meanwhile, as we approach the 3rd anniversary of the killing of (allegedly armed) African American motorist Keaton Otis (May 12, PPR #51) and the 10th anniversary of the killing of unarmed African American motorist Kendra James (May 5, PPR #30), the community remembers. Monthly vigils continue in memory of Otis, with a special Mother's Day memorial scheduled for Sunday, May 12 at the Miracles Club at 5 PM. Speaking of Keaton Otis' mother, Felesia Otis is now the chair of the board at Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, the region's largest mental health provider, and which provides mental health workers for ride-alongs with police through Project Respond. Chris Burley, the officer who was shot in the encounter with Otis, recently also joined Cascadia's board. Even though the police pulled Otis over for "looking like a gang member," and have never released documented evidence of a gun, Burley's biography states: "Keaton was pulled over because of erratic driving and unbeknownst to anyone had a gun with him, and shot Chris in the leg. Subsequent to that, the other officers returned fire and sadly, Keaton was killed." The AMA Coalition for Justice and Police Reform is planning a memorial for Kendra James on May 5, also at 5 PM.

Burley replaced Donna Henderson, now an Assistant Chief but head of the Transit Division at the time of Chasse's death; her directions for Transit Police to take no prisoners was never investigated by Internal Affairs.

more information on James Chasse at mentalhealthportland.org
more information on Keaton Otis at justiceforkeatonotis.wordpress.com
the AMA Coalition's website is albinaministerialcoalition.org
  People's Police Report

May, 2013
Also in PPR #59

Police Shoot Two More People
  In Mental Health Crisis

Community Given Seat At Table
  As DOJ Agreement Moves Forward

Other Shootings in Oregon
FBI Entrapped Teen Convicted
CRC Reviews Three Cases
Second Terrorism Report Falls Short
Developments Favor Copwatchers
PPB Director Resigns After Scandal
CPRC Gets into the Community
Reckless Cop Costs City $61,000
Not Shaking Hands With Cops
Exclusive PPB Training Meetings
  • Pervocop Demoted
  • More Buisness Alliance Vs. Homeless
  • Community Action Causes Sheriff to Change
Quick Flashes
  • Video Proves Police Reports Wrong
  • PPB Officer Accused of Harrasment
  • Deputy Sued for Harrassment
  • Cop Reinstated on Technicality
Rapping Back #59

Portland Copwatch
PO Box 42456
Portland, OR 97242
(503) 236-3065/ Incident Report Line (503) 321-5120
e-mail: copwatch@portlandcopwatch.org

Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.

People's Police Report #59 Table of Contents
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