Honestly, you'd think they'd repay us with kinder treatment than this for helping smear the pants off would-be police commissioner, Randy Leonard. Oh, that's right. That never happened. But, leaving a certain city councilman's Nixonian paranoia aside...Portland Police Bureau spokesman Brian Schmautz really went off the deep end this week after I emailed him seeking comment on a story for this week's issue. The story in question focuses on the fact that the District Attorney's office dropped a resisting arrest charge against a Taser victim last week. It turns out to be the latest in a string of troubling Taser incidents, like the guy who got Tasered after dialling 911, and the officer accused of lying on the stand in court to cover for allegedly losing control and Tasering a suspect a second time without good reason. Not to mention the guy who got jumped walking home from the pub, and the guy who got Tasered for riding his bike without a light.
This time the Taser victim, Christopher Newby, was arrested near Angelo's bar on SE Hawthorne on July 17, after apparently being Tasered twice and bitten by a police dog. But police officers' accounts differ as to how much force was required to take him into custody, and it now appears the extent of Newby's bad behavior may have been exaggerated in two officers' arrest reports, perhaps to justify the level of force used. I managed to find one of the witnesses at the scene, who was quoted in the cops' reports, whose testimony about what happened directly contradicts what's reported in the officers' reports. Not to mention the fact that while one cop wrote that Newby was only Tasered once, the other cop says he was Tasered twice. I think there are legitimate questions raised by these inconsistencies, which is why I'm reporting on the story. You can read the whole story with an abridged quote from Schmautz online, here. I say abridged, because instead of calling up with a comment, as he usually would, Schmautz responded to my request for comment with this email:
You consistently write stories that contain partial or incomplete information about the actions taken by officers in connection with their responsibilities. This proposed story is no exception. As you are aware, officers at the same scene are not always dealing with the same person or involved in the same series of events. After reading the reports I can understand what may have occurred.
Based on the information in the call, this event started with a altercation at a bar. By your account, one of the individuals involved admitted to having a warrant for his arrest and running from officers after becoming involved in an altercation. He has now pled guilty to charges issued in connection with some of his actions that evening. The force report written in connection with the incident notes that the subjects involved were under the influence of alcohol at the time of their arrest.
You consistently write stories from the perspective the individual who believe they have been abused by an officer. Through our contacts, I have come to learn that it is of little use to attempt to provide perspective when most of it never makes it to your readers and you steadfastly refuse to correct errors or update information in your paper if the court later determines a subject is guilty.
At the end of this email, you once again made reference to a story you wrote on October 9, 2008. Prior to publication of that story, I suggested that you provide your readers with the audio of the 911 call. I did so because I believe your readers could draw a more informed conclusion if they heard subject of the story talking to the dispatcher and understood his mind set on the evening of the call.
I've made a public records request for the call. It'll be posted here when it comes back to me. Continues...
In the current proposed story you seem to fixate on pieces of information in the hope others will draw your predetermined conclusion. As is typical in our contacts, you ask me for a short statement which may or may not appear in context to your story. May I suggest that you just post the police reports? Those who wish to take the time to make an informed decision can do so. Regardless or whether your readers agree or disagree with my perspective or your perspective, they will be able to read the reports and draw their own conclusion.
I'm feeling a bit like the "mainstream media" at a Sarah Palin rally here, but no matter. In the spirit of cooperation, the public interest, and open discourse, I'd like to rise to the challenge and post the police reports as Schmautz is suggesting. After the jump...
Here are scans of an arrest report by Officer Neal Glaske, who claims the Angelo's barmaid, Lora Lee Kyte, told him Newby had been "trying to get other patrons to fight him." Kyte now denies that to be true, and is quoted in my story.
Here's a four-page use of force report by Officer Ty Engstrom, who admits Tasering Newby twice.
Here's a printout from Engstrom's Taser, showing two deployments of the weapon within 13 seconds.
And lastly, a report by Sergeant Phil Blanchard, who makes no mention of the second Tasering, saying Newby was compliant after the first Taser deployment, and after being bitten by a police dog. Blanchard also says Newby had been figting in the bar, even though he hadn't witnessed it, and even though people who were there now deny it to be true.
Schmautz seems to be implying that it's unfair of me to ask the questions about excessive force unless the alleged victim has a spotless record. But that's not how force gets used. And it's not, in my opinion, where people's rights are abused, either. Granted, the odd 71-year-old lady may get Tasered and have her glass eye fall out (this actually happened in October 2003...her name was Eunice Crowder, she got a $145,000 settlement from the city) but for the most part, the Taser in Portland seems to be being used as a compliance weapon by police against suspects they feel won't grumble, after the fact. Newby may have been intoxicated on the night in question, he may even have fled the cops because he had a warrant. But did he deserve two Taser deployments and a bite from a police dog, not to mention a roughing-up at the hands of some eager citizen bystanders? I don't think so.
Still, as Schmautz suggests, I'll let you draw your own conclusions. As I type, the city's Independent Police Review is still looking for people who can do citizen outreach on these issues...I happen to think a lively public discussion of the facts, stimulated by the media, should be part of that community engagement. But sincerely: Thanks for the email, Brian. I'm flattered you think my reporting is worth such an expansive response.