The family of a man shot in the back by a cop sniper in November 2005 is suing both the sniper and the City of Portland for undisclosed damages.
Civil rights attorney Tom Steenson—the same attorney suing over the death-in-custody last September of James Philip Chasse Jr., filed a federal suit at 1:30 pm yesterday, Wednesday March 7.
Raymond Gwerder, 30, was "drunk and despondent," holding a handgun in the backyard of a house on NE 118th, when a police officer trained in crisis intervention managed to get through to his cell phone. As Gwerder was talking with the negotiator, he was shot dead by police sniper Leo Besner, named in the suit.
After the shooting, the police negotiator, Detective Rae Klein, called Gwerder's name at least 10 times, but got no response, according to the Oregonian. He was dead.
A grand jury trial in November 2005 found no criminal wrongdoing by police, but jurors told the Oregonian they were "highly frustrated" by the outcome, that they felt more could have been done to save Gwerder's life.
Now the suit, brought by Gwerder's sister, Bobbie Jo Clark, who is understood to be too shaken by the incident to go public, alleges Besner and the City of Portland "violated plaintiff Raymond Gwerder's Fourth Amendment rights by subjecting or causing him to be subjected to excessive force resulting in his wrongful death."
"Despite what Besner knew or should have known, he decided on his own to shoot Gwerder in the back with his M16 rifle and kill him rather than allow Gwerder to re-enter the apartment and continue his phone contact with the hostage negotiation team," says the suit.
"Besner acted with a conscious disregard for Gwerder's right to life," it continues. "In addition, or in the alternative, Besner's conduct was wanton, reckless, and in disregard of Gwerder's well-established constitutional rights."
The suit blames the City of Portland for not having recognized and intervened earlier in what it alleges is "Besner's history of using extreme, excessive, unnecessary, and, at times, deadly, physical force against innocent citizens," listing examples like: Tazing a man who was "attempting to restrain a woman who had been threatening people with a knife" in 2002; pepper spraying an anti-war protestor standing on a sidewalk with a sign in March 2003; and slamming a 15-year-old into a wall in April 2003 who, prior to that, had been "standing on the sidewalk, reading a newspaper."
The suit also takes aim at the Portland Police Bureau, alleging that since it has "never disciplined a Portland police officer who, while acting in the line of duty, has caused the death of an innocent citizen through the use of deadly force," "that well-established refusal to discipline constitutes an official well-established practice of Portland and its police bureau to support, condone, and ratify the unlawful and unconstitutional use of deadly force or other force that results in death."
Neither Steenson, the police bureau, nor the mayor's office were commenting on the suit today.