Update: Commissioners Amanda Fritz, Dan Saltzman and Police Chief Rosie Sizer just announced that tomorrow they will release recommendations for how to improve interactions between people with mental illness and the Portland police. Release will be tomorrow, 2:30 PM at the Lovejoy Room in City Hall. Check Blogtown for the story then! Now back to the original post.
Woof. Under pressure from Mayor Sam Adams and Commissioner Dan Saltzman, today Multnomah County's District Attorney has (for only the second time in Oregon history) made public the testimony at a grand jury investigation of a police shooting. The 264 pages of testimony from 27 individuals regarding Officer Jason Walters' shooting of Jack Dale Collins are now posted on the district attorney's website. Hooray for open government.
Though there is no shocking new information about the shooting in the testimony, the hearing did include interesting testimony from Officer Tracy Chamberlin, a firearms instructor at the police’s Advanced Academy, who explained the reasoning behind bringing a gun to a knife fight.
“We teach if less-lethal force is to be used against a person, we always need to have lethal cover with us," Chamberlin explained to the jury. "You put yourself in a huge disadvantage to go less lethal with a person, have it not be effective and then have to transition to your handgun or lethal. By that time, it might be too late.” The training also teaches officers not to not try and engage a person with a sharp weapon in hand-to-hand combat. Instead, officers are supposed to keep at a distance.
- Collins' X-Acto knife.
One of the jurors questioned whether the X-Acto knife could actually be considered deadly. “I think the average lay person would not see that as a deadly—as potential for causing death. To then fight it with something that is definitely—what would make that in your mind a situation justified to hit someone with a gun?” asked the juror.
Chamberlin replied that in a knife attack, an X-Acto knife could quickly turn deadly, cutting an artery. “It doesn’t take a very deep cut in the carotid artery to kill you,” said Chamberlin.
“This is what you would be training the officer?” asked the juror. Chamberlin confirmed yes.
He told the jury that officers are trained to use force based on the “totality of circumstances.” “We teach officers when they are responding to a person with and edged weapon to evaluate their whole surroundings. We can step behind cover if there is a tree, if there is a car… We evaluate the threats’ physical appearance. Is the person 90 years old? ... Trying to evaluate—it’s hard but trying to evaluate the person’s mental state. Does the person seem to be a threat? Is the person acting aggressive?”
Another juror asked why officers aren’t shoot to injury someone, like shooting the knife out of Collins’ hand, for example.
“Because that’s an extremely difficult task to accomplish,” replied Chamberlin. “To hit a moving target is hard enough. When officers are involved in shootings, one of the biggest hinderances is they are under stress… that stress, that has a psychological impact on the officer… One of the other reasons we wouldn’t advocate doing that is your rounds on the person, like you asked, wouldn’t have any effect. Maybe you are shooting to wound the person, but it may not slow them down.”
More excerpts from the grand jury testimony—including the hikers who say Collins' threatened to kill them—below the cut.
Travis Rogers, a volunteer at the arbroretum, was working in the office when a woman came in to complain that a transient-looking man on a trail had creepily followed her. Rogers told his supervisors about the complaint and then 10-20 minutes later, a second woman came in, complaining the transient man had harassed her. Rogers called the park ranger on duty and when Collins appeared and headed into the Arboretum bathroom, his supervisors called 911. The woman later told the staff that the man had threatened to kill her. “He looked very typical homeless, very introverted, kind of, as he walked in,” said Rogers. Then the staff saw Officer Walters arrive on the scene and walk up to the bathroom. “I heard the officer knock, then step away from the door, pull out his weapon, ‘Drop your weapon, drop your weapon” as he pointed his gun.” He heard Walters fire two shots and then two more. Rogers noted that when Collins came out of the bathroom, “He had his left hand raised. He had a small knife, what it looked like.” Rogers said Collins walked “zombie like” toward Walters.
Full time park employee Dan Moeller was the person who called 911 and met Officer Walters when he arrived at the scene. Moeller says Walters seemed calm, routine. “This kind of stuff happens a lot in our park system. For better or worse, this is not something that’s terribly abnormal.”
- Jack Dale Collins, illustrated by Adrian Koch
Lillian Boyton was the woman hiking with her son who Collins’ allegedly threatened. Her son was a little ways ahead of her on the trail, leaving Boyton by herself when she came up on a water tower. “I saw a man near the water tower walking toward me. And to me it was obviously a vagrant. And he said—he was walking toward me very stiff. And his arms were very stiff, made me think of a zombie. And he said ‘I’m going to kill you.’ And I thought he was messing with me, you know. But I didn’t want to take it lightly.” She started walking away and he followed her, repeating again, “I’m going to kill you.”
Her son told a similar chilling story. He came across Collins kneeling by the water tower, his back turned to the trail. Collins’ called out to the boy. “And he got up, and he looked all disheveled and, I don’t know, just tired and all shaking. And he walked up to me… I could see that he had red on his hand. I didn’t know what it was. Then I saw on his shirt there was like red all smeared around his shirt, looked like this. And he walked up, and maybe he was ten feet away from he and he said, ‘I’m going to kill you.’ And he looked right in my eyes. And I said, ‘Why would you kill me? I haven’t done anything to you.’ And he looked kind of angry and confused. I didn’t know what to think, so I was kind of inching away. I said, ‘Sorry. I haven’t done anything to you.’”