Last week, Rose City Copwatch, a little known police accountability group, brought attention to McCollister, an officer who recently returned to the police force after a nearly half-year-long suspension. Last May, McCollister fatally shot Kendra James, a 21-year-old African American woman, in the back, during a routine traffic stop. At the time, McCollister claimed he feared for his life when James tried to drive away.
A subsequent investigation and Grand Jury hearing dismissed any charges of wrongdoing against McCollister. Then-Police Chief Mark Kroeker suspended the rookie for five and a half months for mishandling the situation.
Community members were incensed by the shooting and subsequent investigation that many believed glossed over inconsistencies in the officers' account of the events. At the time, an elderly woman reported she saw McCollister and other officers conferring at Appleby's immediately following the incident. McCollister's testimony about the shooting changed after he had an opportunity to consult with other officers who were at the scene.
The posters released last week pointed out the police "have taken great care to keep any photos of McCollister out of public circulation." The group offers $40 worth of groceries to the first person who can provide a photograph of the officer.
On Wednesday, the mayor's office responded to the posters with a sternly worded rebuttal. Calling the posters "appalling," the mayor's statement goes on to call them "a rank attempt at intimidation of an officer whose case was handled through the due process of law."
Clearly, the posters touched a nerve. The mayor's statement took pains to categorize the posters as dangerous and incendiary. "While they make no overt threat," says the mayor's press release, "they imply advocacy of vigilante justice." It was this sentiment of "vigilante justice" that was seized upon later in the week.
On Saturday, The Oregonian editorial board published a derisive and puzzling opinion piece. "In the make-believe world of radical political activism," the editorial read, "this stunt may seem clever." The editors go on to say that the posters were "calculated to set up ambiguous confrontations between police and anyone foolish enough to follow the posters' advice." The editorial also claims the photo is meant for "distribution in pursuit of some unclear objective."
Yet, in spite of their characterization as vigilantes, members of the group refute that label. "We believe the people of Portland have a right to know who their police are," explained a Rose City Copwatch spokesperson at a press conference last Thursday. "Identification is the first step towards accountability," she continued. "That's why cops wear name tags. That's why they carry business cards and sign their names on their reports. We have a right to know who Scott McCollister is."
At press time, Rose City Copwatch had yet to receive any photos of McCollister. They may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.