THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY's office dropped a resisting arrest charge against a Taser victim last week in the latest incident raising questions about excessive use of the controversial weapons by the Portland Police Bureau.
Christopher Newby was arrested near Angelo's bar on SE Hawthorne on July 17, after being Tasered 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.
Newby, who had a bench warrant outstanding in Washington for non-payment of a $900 fine from 2003, admits running away from Angelo's after his friend poured a beer over server, Lora Lee Keyte, and Keyte told them both she was calling the police.
Officer Neal Glaske arrested Newby's friend for disorderly conduct just outside the bar. Meanwhile, Newby ran from Sergeant Phil Blanchard when he asked him to stop, according to Blanchard's arrest report. Blanchard followed Newby up SE 47th, and called to a group of citizens to "Go ahead and tackle him!" according to his report.
Newby was tackled to the ground by citizens, struck twice by Blanchard between the shoulder blades, then Tasered by Officer Ty Engstrom, according to Blanchard's arrest report. Blanchard wrote that a dog under control of Officer Ryan Hilsenteger then bit Newby, and that Newby then began to comply, and was handcuffed and arrested.
But Officer Engstrom wrote that Newby continued to struggle after having been Tasered once, and bitten by the dog, so he Tasered him again. Sergeant Blanchard's report makes no mention of the second Tasering, even though a printout from Engstrom's weapon shows it was deployed twice, once for two seconds, and once for five seconds, within 13 seconds, on the night in question.
It is unlikely that the officers involved will ever have to explain the discrepancy in their reports relating to whether Newby was Tasered once or twice, because the district attorney's office dropped the resisting arrest charge against Newby last Monday, October 27. District Attorney Mike Schrunk did not return a call asking why the charge was dropped.
Meanwhile, there are also questions about whether Newby was ever involved in a fight in the bar, in the first place.
Officer Glaske wrote in his arrest report that the server, Keyte, told him: "Newby became very vocal and was yelling and trying to get other patrons to fight him." Blanchard also wrote in his arrest report that he had probable cause to arrest Newby for "disorderly conduct (the bar fight)," as well as resisting arrest and interfering with a police officer.
But Keyte tells the Mercury: "No, that was the other guy. [Newby] was kind of being a dick, but the other guy was the one challenging people to fight. [Newby] was not getting physical."
"I didn't want to have contact with the police because of the warrant," says Newby. "But it's not in my nature to pick fights. It's in my buddy's nature to pick fights, but I was like, there are other bars, let's go.
"I think I pissed the cops off by trying to get away, and they overstepped their bounds for trying to restrain me," Newby continues. "And then they fabricated the stuff in their reports about me trying to fight people in the bar to cover for their actions."
Nevertheless, Newby pled guilty to disorderly conduct last week, in exchange for the district attorney's office dropping the resisting arrest charge. He got 20 hours of community service and credit for four days of jail served, against a two-day jail sentence.
"My record isn't the best anyway, so a disorderly conduct's not going to hurt me," he reasons. "But I can't afford to fight the resisting arrest charge, I can't afford to be thrown in jail for 15-20 days."
"This is an example of officers quickly resorting to force in a situation that does not call for it," says Newby's attorney, Scott Leonard. "Multiple Taserings plus an uncontrolled canine bite in the span of 13 seconds is not justified when four officers surround a person and have them pinned to the ground.
"The Taser is classified as a 'less lethal weapon system' by Portland police," Leonard continues. "But look at the system's national and local record: For some citizens, lethal was not a relative term. No matter what the department wants to call it, the Taser is potentially lethal to all people and in all situations. It should be a tactic of last resort, not convenience."
In August, another defendant, Hung Tran was found not guilty of resisting arrest and three other charges at trial after Officer Jennifer Thompson told a jury she had Tasered Tran just once, when multiple witnesses testified she had Tasered him twice. Tran's defense attorney told the jury Officer Thompson had used excessive force against Tran, and then lied about it to cover her mistake.
In June, Clifton Brooks was Tasered and charged with resisting arrest on Belmont after being assaulted by strangers and dialing 911, then breaking a window in frustration, ["The Wrong Guy," News, Oct 9].
"Based on the information in the call, this event started with an altercation at a bar," says police spokesperson Brian Schmautz. "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," says Schmautz.