PORTLAND'S THIRD officer-involved shooting of 2012 unfolded early Monday, March 26, when four Portland police officers shot and wounded a robbery suspect who was carrying a fake handgun.
It was the second police shooting this year involving a replica gun—and the third since December 2010—sparking new questions over whether Portland should follow the lead of other cities and ban replica guns before someone else winds up shot.
"Even if you point a fake gun at a police officer, the officer will act appropriately," says Sergeant Pete Simpson, a police spokesman. "It's very hard to tell."
About 7:30 am on Monday, police found 31-year-old Jonah Potter sleeping in his car at SE Stark and 37th. Police say his car, a blue Honda, matched the car used in a SE Belmont convenience store robbery the day before. Thinking Potter was armed, officers called in tactical officers as backup. But Potter woke up and got of the car, fake gun in hand, according to police, before the tactical team showed up.
Four officers then fired seven bullets at Potter, sending him to the hospital with non-life-threatening wounds.
"It's unfortunate, because the only witnesses are police," says Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch, eager to hear what Potter might tell a grand jury when he recovers. "Who knows if he was even aiming the gun at them or just pointing it at the ground."
In January, two officers shot Bradley Morgan, a suicidal man threatening to jump from a downtown parking garage, after they say he pointed a black toy gun at them. In December 2010, two officers shot Darryel Dwayne Ferguson after they said he opened his apartment door and pointed a pellet gun.
In 2007, Beaverton outlawed replica handguns in public areas, punishable by a fine. Monday, Mayor Sam Adams took to social media with an informal poll asking if Portland should do something similar.
"It's unfortunate, because the only witnesses are police," says Dan Handelman of Portland CopWatch. "Who knows if he was even aiming the gun at them."
It was unclear as of the Mercury's press time whether Potter, like most victims of police shootings since 2010, was in a mental health crisis or battling substance abuse. His Multnomah County court records showed no history of mental illness or past officer altercations.
On Tuesday, March 27, the story took another interesting turn when police identified the officers in the shooting. Larry Wingfield was one of two cops who shot and killed Tom Higgenbotham, a homeless man wielding a knife, in January 2011.
The second officer involved, Tracy Chamberlin, is one of the bureau's trainers on use-of-force guidelines, and he was among those set to defend, in court, Ron Frashour's killing of Aaron Campbell in 2010. A third officer, Richard Storm, helped rescue Officer Parik Singh after a suicidal man shot him last March. The fourth officer was Dennis Wilcox. All four are on paid leave while the investigation continues.