People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Shooting Death Breaks Portland Police Streak
At 3:45 PM on Wednesday, March 12, Portland Copwatch's Dan Handelman was recording an interview with KBOO radio about police issues and mentioned it had been over a year since the last police shooting, and that Portland Police were in their second longest stretch since 1992 without a shooting (373 days). Less than an hour later, Officer John Romero confronted 49 year old Kelly Swoboda near the Hillsdale library and shot Swoboda to death. Officer Romero was wounded in the arm and a gun was found near Swoboda. Initial reports said the man had taken his hand out of his pocket but it wasn't clear he had a gun. Swoboda was hit three times, twice in the chest and once in the leg. About a month later, on April 16, there was another incident in which gunfire wounded Officer Jeffrey Dorn (#29094), killed a K-9 dog, and a suspect was wounded (how is unclear).
Swoboda's story is a bit more complex. The library is across the street from Wilson High School, where Romero is a school resource officer. Swoboda was driving a van that matched the description of someone who'd been following students around. Still, the prevailing narrative, including from Mayor Charlie Hales-- who talked about Swoboda firing "again and again and again" before the grand jury was convened (turns out he fired four times and hit Romero once)-- focuses on Swoboda's criminal record rather than an agent of the state enacting the death penalty on the sidewalks of SW Portland with no judicial oversight. In April, the grand jury cleared the officer of criminal wrongdoing.
The other shooting began with a call about a break-in at a law enforcement supply store, also in SW Portland, that led to a manhunt, Officer Dorn firing at one suspect, Paul Alan Ropp, 20, and being hit in both legs, as well as the death of Mick, the dog. In a KGW-TV interview, a witness who confronted Ropp in his yard described him as acting "goofy and apologetic" despite being wounded and dropping and picking up the assault rifle he was carrying (April 16). Details are still sketchy, but it appears officer Jason Worthington (#44630) also fired his weapon. Because Ropp and two alleged accomplices crashed their vehicle before the shooting, it's not clear whether Ropp's injuries were from the crash, police bullets or dog bites.
Meanwhile, the family of Brad Morgan, who was shot to death by police while in a mental health crisis on top of a parking garage in January 2012 (PPR #56), filed a lawsuit on December 31. The suit claims the officers who shot Morgan should have [a] taken cover (Morgan had a gun and was threatening suicide); [b] contacted Morgan by cell phone-- he was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher until the cops arrived; and [c] called in the Hostage Negotiation Team (Portland Mercury Blog, January 2). The family's claim is bolstered by an incident that occurred three days before the suit was filed. On December 28, an officer from the Enhanced Crisis Intervention Team, confronting a man on top of a parking garage downtown who was armed with a knife and threatening suicide, coaxed the man into custody without incident by offering him a sandwich (Oregonlive, December 28).
In an unusual twist, Adalberto Flores-Haro, who was shot by Washington County police in 2012 when he found them sneaking through his Portland yard and mistook them for burglars (PPR #56), then filed a lawsuit (PPR #58), has had charges brought against him two years later for drug possession, menacing, disorderly conduct and reckless endangerment (Portland Mercury, April 9). Can you say retaliation?
In January, the Bureau's semi-annual Police Review Board report revealed that no officer who fired a weapon was found out of policy in any of six shooting incidents: a teen ("JB") who was wounded (7/18/12--PPR #57), Billy Wayne Simms (7/28/12--also PPR #57), Michael Tate (8/21/12--PPR #58), Joshua Baker (9/29/12--also PPR #58), Merle Hatch (2/17/13-- PPR #59) and Santiago Cisneros (3/4/13--also PPR #59). Because the Bureau is hyper-sensitive about these things, none of those names appeared in the report. Interestingly, one officer was found out of policy in the Simms shooting. Simms drove his car from a gas station near a stack of propane tanks away from Officer Justin Clary toward a street-- which the car ultimately crossed and then crashed into a house. The operational planning was found in policy but was requested to be debriefed due to lack of communication and planning. Sgt. Anthony Christensen (#24131), the senior officer on the scene, was found out of policy for failing to coordinate these key ingredients of the incident, which led to "on the spot" decision making. The PRB commended Clary for his great aim (all six gunshots hit the car) and for taking into account the backstop (which it does not mention was a busy street and a residential home). It's good to recognize Christensen's role in how Simms' death unfolded, but it was not he who pulled the trigger amidst various flammable tanks and in a heavily populated area, taking the young man's life.
The two shootings from 2013, both of which ended in the deaths of people in mental health crisis (Hatch and Cisneros), reflect very little discussion by the PRB. Someone told the Board "nothing could have been done" before Cisneros retrieved a shotgun from the trunk of his car and allegedly started firing at the two officers who killed him. This seems to counter the concept of decision-point analysis of officers' actions to see whether they could have made other choices. No questions seem to have been raised about how Cisneros, a military veteran, missed hitting either officer with shotgun blasts at extremely close range. The Board was allowed to hear the officers' emotional broadcasts over the police radio system, but Cisneros' call to his mother was not recorded so could not be used. And, of course, no civilian witnesses are allowed at the hearings so the mother could not tell the Board what she heard.
In the Hatch incident, there is no discussion of any actions analyzed by the Board, which is inconceivable in a case where the "weapon" turned out to be a broken telephone receiver. The only analysis is a recommendation that AR-15 rifles used in low light situations be given better "optics" including a red laser dot (presumably to "light up" the suspect).
One PRB member indicated that the 17 shots fired by police did not hit Baker. (So the text Baker sent his girlfriend about being shot in the head, reported in the Oregonian, may have been wrong.) Board members excused the fusillade by saying the officers "considered" the backdrop and changed over to "less lethal" weapons after using their firearms.
In Tate's case, he jumped out of a second-story window while Detective Travis Fields shot at him. Fields was doing support work for Washington County Deputies and federal marshals. The Board called for debriefing [a] the officer's actions, [b] the operational planning and [c] the post-shooting actions. They noted there was not enough communication ahead of time, no plan if Tate were found in the apartment (where he was), and no action by the lead officer (not under the PPB's jurisdiction) to control Tate's hands. This is one of many cases that raises questions about the PPB working with other agencies when deadly force is used, but the PRB has no suggestions on this recurring issue.
"JB," the teen, allegedly had a weapon on him, though he did not by the time he was shot in the back while running. This is a very similar scenario to Aaron Campbell (PPR #50), except "JB" lived, yet the PRB found the officers' actions within policy.
Finally, an unusual update on the March 2012 shooting of Jonah Potter (PPR #56): His wife wrote a testimonial for a float tank business, in which she revealed Potter is serving five years in prison and recovering from four police gunshot wounds (Mercury, February 19). It's rare that a person lives after being shot by Portland Police, and even rarer to hear about their side of the story or what happens next. The testimonial uses the unfortunate term "suicide by cop" (officers killing someone is a homicide, period), but says Potter is in mental health recovery and ready to pull his life back together once he's home.
The Police Review Board, which consists of an Assistant Chief, the investigated officer's commander, an IPR director, 1-2 peer officers and 1-2 civilians depending on whether it is about force or proposed discipline, welcomed aboard eight new civilian members in February, bringing the pool to 18. Because these meetings are held behind closed doors, there is no interaction between the public and folks who are ostensibly their "eyes and ears" in these high profile cases. The PRB's new members include a commercial banker, a lawyer for Multnomah County, a lawyer who does debt collection, a business lawyer, and a man who works with the PPB crisis response team. They seem to have more in common with wealthy elites and the City than the people who are often victimized by police misconduct.
"Alien Boy," the documentary on the life and death of James Chasse, Jr, was released on DVD and to various on-demand services this spring. The movie was rated one of 2013's top 10 in Willamette Week (December 25). PCW has copies available for $15.
www.portlandcopwatch.org/PRB analys is0114.html
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.