Last week, Mayor Tom Potter stood by his May decision to fire Portland Police Bureau Lieutenant Jeffrey Kaer for poor decision-making leading up to Kaer's fatal shooting of 28-year-old Dennis Young in January 2006.
But police oversight activists say the mayor's language in firing Kaer is designed to avoid the city being sued, rather than create true accountability for the police.
Potter delivered a statement to the media outside his office last Thursday, August 16, once again accusing Kaer of bad performance in the events leading up to the shooting—but not accusing the lieutenant of wrongdoing by pulling the trigger.
"This has been a difficult decision for me to make, and not one I make lightly," said the mayor. "But I believe our community must hold its police officers to the highest standards of behavior, and on the evening of January 4, 2006, Lt. Kaer failed to meet those standards. Ultimately, that failure contributed to the death of a human being."
Potter added that while Kaer's decision to shoot "was not unlawful," it violated Bureau Directive 1010.10, stating that bureau members not place themselves or others in jeopardy by engaging in actions inconsistent with their training.
"The mayor is saying, 'You shouldn't have pulled the trigger toward a moving car,' but he isn't saying, 'You shouldn't have shot this human being,'" says Copwatch activist Dan Handelman. "They're accusing Kaer of poor decision-making in everything leading up to the shooting, but not in the shooting itself. This is the same thing that happened with Officer Scott McCollister over the Kendra James shooting in 2003."
But Potter's termination of Kaer represents a tougher approach than that taken by Mayor Vera Katz in 2003 over the Kendra James shooting: McCollister was suspended for five and a half months without pay for shooting James. Potter said Kaer's experience as a lieutenant was a factor in the termination.
"We are deeply disappointed with the mayor's decision," says Commander Mike Reese, a spokesperson for the Commanding Officers' Union, of which Kaer is a member. "And we expect an independent arbiter to reach a different decision."