FOR THE SECOND TIME in two months, a Portland police officer has shot and killed a civilian. In the wake of the high-profile death of Aaron Campbell in late January, the police shooting of a man in Hoyt Arboretum on Monday, March 22, sparked protest and raised concerns about the Portland police's use of lethal force.
The incident started as a routine disturbance call.
The police 911 record logs a call at 3:05 pm on Monday afternoon from someone in Hoyt Arboretum complaining about a "drunk transient" harassing passersby. The caller described the man as white, in his 50s, carrying a plastic bag. "Not physically violent," noted the caller.
Police officer Jason Walters, a 13-year veteran of the bureau, responded to the call. For such a routine call, says police spokeswoman Mary Wheat, it was typical for Walters to respond alone, carrying a gun and Taser but not a non-lethal beanbag gun.
According to the police report, Officer Walters found 58-year-old homeless Portlander Jack Collins in the bathroom near the arboretum office. Collins emerged from the bathroom with his hands, face, and arms covered in blood, waving a knife that the official police account would describe as a razor knife with a six-inch handle. The police account says Officer Walters "gave repeated commands to the subject to drop the razor knife, but the subject refused to do so." When Collins approached Officer Walters, the policeman opened fire.
Collins bled to death from a shot to the hip, one of four sustained from Officer Walters' gunfire.
News of the shooting inspired outrage and disappointment among Portlanders still reeling from the controversy surrounding the police shooting of Aaron Campbell ["Curiouser and Curiouser," News, Feb 25].
As news of the fatal shooting spread on Monday, roughly 50 Portlanders rallied in Colonel Summers Park after sunset. The crowd marched to the police's former Southeast Precinct building shouting, "I am Aaron Campbell! I am James Chasse!" The crowd blocked East Burnside, smashed an ATM and the windows of a Starbucks and insurance company, but otherwise caused no major damage.
Over a dozen police cars raced to the protest, which dispersed with no arrests. However, multiple witnesses say the police used pepper spray on some protesters.
"People aren't waiting to hear what happened today because the police don't have any credibility," explained one protester, before the group split up and disappeared into the night.
Portland Police Association President Scott Westerman says the use of force came down to an instant decision on the part of the officer. "The use of a Taser would have been ideal if it worked 100 percent of the time," says Westerman. "If he shoots the Taser and it does not work, there's the possibility that the officer could lose his life, so he chose to use lethal force."
On the scene in Hoyt Arboretum with the police investigators and a swarm of reporters searching for answers on Monday afternoon was Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who took heavy criticism for the bureau and city's handling of the Aaron Campbell shooting.
"Suffice to say we are remorseful that another citizen has lost his life, but I'm not drawing any conclusions about whether this was excessive use of force. I'm not operating off of any playbook here," says Saltzman of this week's shooting.
A grand jury will investigate whether Walters' use of lethal force was justified under Portland police policy, which, thanks to reforms Police Chief Rosie Sizer made in 2008, mandates officers use the "least force possible" to resolve conflicts while allowing an officer to open fire if he or she feels their life is in danger.
Both Saltzman and Mayor Sam Adams say they will push for the grand jury testimony on the incident to make its transcripts public, as it did in the Aaron Campbell case, to meet citizen demands for greater transparency.
Mayor Adams said he understood citizen anger over the incident but stressed that the police department has undertaken reforms. "There is the constant need for training and retraining, debriefing and continuous learning to make sure we use deadly force as a last resort," says Adams.
But police watchdog group Portland Copwatch remains skeptical. "Why are people calling the police when someone might wind up dead?" says Copwatch's Dan Handelman. "The man is bleeding, he's in emotional distress. It's hard to know what to make of it now. But there are always other options than using lethal force."
The online version of this article is different from the print version. It has been updated to include the name of the shooting victim.