People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Law to Shield Shooter Cops' Names Defeated; Fired Cop Reinstated
Portland has had no officer-involved shootings since November, yet the issue of police use of deadly force and its related injustices were front and center for much of the interim time. Foremost was the late December decision by the Oregon Court of Appeals that the City of Portland had to re- hire Officer Ron Frashour, the man who killed Aaron Campbell in 2010 (PPR #50). Beyond that, a shooting in eastern Oregon by a State Trooper (article) prompted the legislature to try keeping the names of officers hidden from the public in "some circumstances"; despite swift momentum, the bill died in committee. In January, two reports were released-- the fourth Portland Police Bureau (PPB) shootings analysis by the OIR Group of Los Angeles and the semi-annual Police Review Board report, each of which revealed more information (in different ways) about these most serious uses of force.
The Frashour decision was handed down on December 30, perhaps to minimize response at holiday time. Nonetheless, the Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA) Coalition for Justice and Police Reform mobilized dozens of people to protest at City Hall the next day, receiving coverage in just about every news outlet in town. The main message: Even though the state says you have to hire him back, assign Frashour to a desk job and keep him away from harming the community. While the Court (unfortunately) agreed with the decision made by the arbitrator that Frashour was within policy and training, their decision was based on the contract between the Portland Police Association (PPA) and the City, which says whatever the arbitrator decides is final. It seems the community needs to focus on this aspect of the contract as it comes up for renewal in June 2017 (also see 48-hour rule, below). The AMA Coalition also turned out about 50 people to remember Campbell on January 29, the 6th anniversary of his death. A speech by his mother Marva Davis was the highlight of the prayer vigil, which also acted as a call to action.
A few days earlier, Oregon State Police and FBI agents shot and killed LaVoy Finicum, one of the armed militants who'd been occupying a wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon. Someone from the State Police contacted Jeff Barker, former head of the PPA and now a state Representative in charge of the judiciary committee, claiming the trooper and his family were being threatened by supporters of the militants. This prompted Barker to "gut and stuff" a bill that was in the pipeline, creating HB4087, which ostensibly would shield officers' names after deadly force incidents only if a judge ruled there was a serious threat of harm against the cop. However, as Portland Copwatch (PCW) and many in the community noted, officers seeing protests about unjust shootings would claim they felt threatened and we might never learn their names. Even if a judge dismissed such a notion, the officer likely would be able to appeal that finding. The bill was headed like an unstoppable train through the Legislature, passing the house on a 55-3 vote on February 17. However, as the community mobilized to call attention to the unintended consequences, the Senate Rules Committee sat on the bill long enough to prevent its moving to a vote in the Senate.
In PPR #66 we named three Oregon legislators who are former cops: Barker, former Gresham Chief Carla Piluso, and former Oregon State Police officer Andy Olson. Other legislators with law enforcement backgrounds include Carl Wilson, a former reserve deputy who voted against HB 4087, Chris Gorsek, another former PPB cop, Wayne Krieger, former Oregon State Police officer, and Sherri Sprenger, former Benton/Grant deputy sheriff.This makes 7 of 60 house members, or 12% of the lower chamber, who often convince the other legislators to vote in ways that do not support accountability and civil rights.
The OIR Group's report, which is supposed to be an annual publication under the City Code creating the "Independent" Police Review Division (IPR), was the first since 2014 (PPR #64). It covered incidents from 2011-2013, meaning the most recent shooting analyzed was nearly three years prior to the report's release. Much to their credit, OIR called for the Bureau to stop using the term "suicide by cop" because it presupposes the outcome of a confrontation with a person intent on provoking police to shoot them is for police to accommodate that desire. OIR seemed more emboldened in the post-Ferguson era to be more critical of the Bureau in the 11 incidents they reviewed. On the other hand, they did not say anything about the fact that four of the 11 cases involved people of color being shot/shot at. Portland Copwatch, in our analysis, suggested that detectives always ask the question "Did the suspect's race play a role in your decision to use deadly force?"
The OIR Group once again called for the City to remove the "48 hour rule" from the PPA contract, which allows two days before officers can be compelled to testify in an administrative investigation. For the first time since PARC released the first of these reports in 2003, OIR included a table and statistics about the shootings under review, showing that 29% of the people subjected to deadly force in the 35 cases they reviewed were African American, 57% were people in mental health crisis, and 26% were unarmed. In the incident involving an African American teenager shot in 2012 (PPR #57), they called out the PPB for bias in describing the teen's movements as "shuck and jive." In that same case, the police released a dog to chase the suspect, and the K-9 then bit another passenger in the car that the suspect had run from--the wrong person.
They also revealed that even though Officer Jason Lile held a Taser in one hand and a gun in the other when he shot and killed Thomas Higginbotham in 2011 (PPR #53), he was not disciplined. Detective Michael Fields' bullet hit a kitchen doorway and barely missed hitting the female cousin of Michael Tate when he mistook Tate's cell phone for a gun in 2012 (PPR #57); Tate and his cousin are Latino. OIR wisely told the Bureau to look at parallels between deadly force scenarios, especially those involving the same officers, such as Sgt. Nathan Voeller's part in shooting Merle Hatch in a fenced in parking lot in 2013 (PPR #59) which was very similar to his shooting David Hughes in 2006 (PPR #40).
The Police Review Board (PRB) report was released once again with no announcement by the Bureau, and Copwatch reported on it before the news media. (See article for non-deadly force related information.) City code expanding the information to be contained in the reports was passed in 2014 (PPR #62), yet the summaries of PRB hearings on the three 2015 police shootings are so vague, PCW had to guess which incident was being referred to in one case. In that case, David Ellis allegedly stabbed Officer Jose Jiminez and was then wounded by a police bullet. There was no scrutiny of Jiminez' role in the incident, in which he tripped and fell over while backing up (PPR #66). As PCW noted in our analysis, because of the PRB's rules, Ellis was not allowed to address the Board even though he lived. The PRB also reviewed the shooting death of Michael Harrison, in which an officer shot and wounded him because she felt threatened when he moved forward with a knife (PPR #66). They praised Sgt. Martin Padilla for jumping into action with a "beanbag" gun, even though OIR has repeatedly criticized supervisors for going "hands on" rather than coordinating the actions of other officers on the scene. The Board also covered the death of Christopher Healy (PPR #65), in this case praising Officer Royce Curtiss' decision to use a Taser on Healy once he'd been shot and dropped his knife, but hadn't collapsed. PCW noted that at that point Healy needed hospitalization, not 50,000 volts of electricity. All three were in some form of mental health crisis, but no special attention seemed to be paid to this despite the ongoing scrutiny of the US Department of Justice for the PPB's excessive force against those with mental illness (article here).
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.