People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Portland Police Involved in Two-- or Three-- Deadly Force
Incidents in 2015, Killing Houseless
During the first three months of 2015, Portland Police were involved in at least two incidents where they used deadly force-- and a third involving a questionable "suicide." The first incident, on February 17, involved a Gang Enforcement Team officer firing one bullet, missing intended target Ryan Matthew Sudlow, 31. The other acknowledged officer involved shooting was of Christopher Healy, 36, a houseless man who'd been invited to shower at someone's home, yet was called in for suspicious activity by a neighbor, and ended up dead by police bullets on March 22. The alleged suicide of Quintrell Holiman, 26, on February 24 came after he supposedly fired a gun at officers, ran, hid in a yard, and was fired at by "bean bags" and a flash-bang grenade. Meanwhile, the family of Brad Morgan, killed by Portland Police during a mental health crisis in 2012 (PPR #56), lost their bid to find the officers negligent in a civil trial, and the mother of Kelly Swoboda (who was killed in March 2014--PPR #62) left a searing message for Portland's Mayor months before the Police Review Board released findings on his (and one other) death.
Speaking to reporters where Healy was killed near SE 130th and Sherman, Bureau spokesperson Sgt. Greg Stewart reported Healy had pulled a knife before being shot, saying about the officer "we're thankful he's ok." (Stewart got away with murder in 2007 when he shot a man through the front door of his Scappoose home --PPR #43.) Stewart's silence about the loss of life was echoed shortly after by Chief Larry O'Dea, who said he was relieved the officers were not hurt. The knife was described as being 10 inches long, but photos show a weapon with two 2.5-inch blades separated by a 4-inch handle. This is reminiscent of the X-Acto knife held by Jack Collins (also houseless) being described as a "knife with a 6 inch handle" in 2010 (PPR #50). Stewart also focused on the fact that Healy was hit by a Taser after he was shot, then was brought to the hospital where he died, as if maybe the death wasn't cause by the police actions.
Officers Thomas Clark (#50706), who shot Healy, and Royce Curtiss (#46427), who hit him with the Taser, both were at the scene when Merle Hatch, also houseless, was killed in February 2013-- while holding the broken off receiver of a telephone from the psychiatric hospital he'd been in (PPR #59). Clark was reported to have talked to, but not fired at, Hatch; Curtiss was among those who shot and killed Hatch. Witnesses indicate that Healy may have punched at the officers before he was shot, but only drew the knife afterward.
On a March 23 news story, KATU-TV (2) spoke to the neighbor, who, like the police, seems to have been struck with the pervasive prejudice against those who are or who appear to be houseless-- he thought Healy was going to break into his truck (or house), though he was actually waiting for a car to drive him elsewhere. It appears the cops were called when there was no criminal activity going on and escalated the situation to where a person is dead. (This was also the case with two other houseless persons killed by the cops since 2010-- Thomas Higginbotham in 2011 [PPR #53] and Nick Davis in June 2014 [PPR #63].)
The February shooting happened at a gas station on SW Highland Drive in Gresham, where Officer Charles Asheim (#46067) fired once but did not hit Sudlow. Sudlow appears to be Caucasian, which is a strange relief-- Asheim and the Gang Enforcement Team were chasing after him, and their usual definition of "gang member" is "young black man." The Oregonian's February 20 article lists Sudlow's criminal history but nothing specific about Asheim's past-- though he's named in the discrimination lawsuit filed by the owner of the Fontaine Bleau for alleging the nightclub catered to gang members (PPR #63).
PCW raised concerns about this being the second officer-involved shooting at a gas station in three years, after Billy Wayne Simms died while driving away from police in 2012 (PPR #57). Training Captain Brian Parman said there are no particular rules about appropriate backstops for shootings, which is odd since people are not supposed to smoke nearby for fear the sparks could ignite gas pumps.
Holiman supposedly fired at officers when exiting a club on SE Foster. Police chased him on foot and used their airplane's thermal imaging devices to locate him in the yard of someone's home four blocks away. That person recorded video including the sound of the "beanbag" gun (which the February 25 Oregonian says was aimed at the fence) and the light/sound from the flash- bang. Later, after receiving alleged threats from gang members wanting to retaliate for Holiman's death, the police redoubled their efforts to assure the public that Holiman killed himself by saying the Medical Examiner (ME) confirmed it was a suicide. Not only does the ME apparently consider officer shootings of civilians "suicides" (article), but as we've documented before, the ME relies on the police for information and frequently gives findings beneficial to cops (PPR #38). Days later at a news conference Holiman's mother gave a heartfelt plea for people to stop killing one another and insisted her son took his own life-- but her message was undercut by being seated within feet of the Assistant Chief of Police. If the cops want to show they're not intimidating people to push their own narrative, it would be smart to not be in the room when their message is being echoed.
In late February, the family of Brad Morgan pushed forward with a civil suit against Sgt. John Holbrook and Officer David Scott. The Morgans' attorney, Dave Park, made a strong case that the officers had plenty of other choices than to assist Morgan with his desire to be killed by police. He pointed to the progress being made by the 911 operator who was talking to Morgan, noting Bureau policies allow officers to break in on the phone call to engage in conversation. This would have avoided the face to face confrontation that led to Morgan allegedly pulling a replica gun and the officers killing him. The jury found the officers (and the City) were not negligent for escalating the encounter.
In January, the Police Review Board (PRB) released its twice-annual report, this time including two shootings cases (article). The report states Officer John Romero "created a plan" and communicated with other officers, but doesn't question why he didn't wait for the multiple other officers in the area to assist him before he confronted, then shot and killed Swoboda. Because Swoboda allegedly shot Romero in the hand, it appears that questioning his actions was off limits-- further proven by the PRB's extra step of complimenting Romero. At least one of the bullets hit Swoboda after he'd fallen to the ground.
The December 24 Portland Mercury reports Swoboda's mother called the Mayor's office in September to complain about the Medal of Valor awarded to Romero (PPR #64). "Romero is getting a reward for killing my son? I don't believe my son even shot at him. [Romero] shot himself or [had] another officer [shoot him] to cover up... Nobody has heard of where the gun is." This concern echoes the 2010 incident where Officer Chris Burley was hit twice in the legs during the standoff that left Keaton Otis dead with 23 bullet wounds (PPR #51), and the community has never seen Otis' alleged gun. Romero's mom concludes: "I'm 76 years old. My life is ruined."
The PRB also reviewed the shooting of Nick Davis, in which Officer Robert Brown tripped and fell, using his clumsiness as a reason to fire his weapon. The Board found no wrongdoing, and excused the extreme violence by stating Davis exhibited "paranoia" before taking a crowbar out and swinging it toward Brown "without warning." The Board supported Brown's claim he feared for his life, even though his partner, Officer Matthew Nilsen, did not apparently feel the urge to use deadly force. The report minimizes snuffing out the young man's life by stating "the suspect retreated and the threat ended."
Due to shenanigans such as calling investigations of deadly force "reviews," and the "Definitions" section of the US Department of Justice Agreement precluding such appeals, neither Davis' nor Swoboda's families were able to appeal the Board's findings.
The Portland Police Bureau was responsible for two of the 26 homicides in Multnomah County in 2014 (Oregonian, January 4).
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.