IT LASTED no more than a few seconds—gunshots and some shouting in a hallway—and neither of the police officers knocking on the door of a second-floor apartment on December 17 said they saw it coming. It was a "routine" call, a couple of neighbors exchanging words in the wee hours. The officers' guns weren't even out.
But when the 4 am quiet returned, what happened would soon become obvious: Darryel Dwayne Ferguson was on the other side of his apartment door, bleeding to death after two bullets ripped through his belly and a third unzipped his aorta. A BB gun, a nearly exact replica of a Colt Defender, was later found near his body.
"These calls come out all the time," said Jonathan Kizzar, one of the officers, along with Kelly Jenson, who fired a total of 20 bullets at Ferguson. "We just wanted to tell Mr. Ferguson he needs to stay in his apartment.... I had no intention of arresting anybody."
So how did a couple of knocks at #201 in Southeast Portland's Ventura Park apartments turn into Portland's fifth police shooting of 2010—and the fifth involving a man battling mental illness? Grand jury transcripts released Monday, January 10—245 pages of testimony from hearings that found no criminal wrongdoing—offer something of a road map to that answer.
According to Jenson and Kizzar—the only people besides Ferguson to witness their encounter—they had no choice. Immediately after Ferguson opened his door, he pointed a gun (at least what looked like one) at Jenson's head.
Training kicked in, the cops testified. And Kizzar began unloading his semiautomatic Glock in Ferguson's direction, outside an apartment that officers didn't yet know also shielded Ferguson's girlfriend and her family, including a three-year-old boy. Jenson meanwhile spun to safety, barked at Ferguson to drop his weapon and got a line on Ferguson that allowed him to fire his own handgun. His bullets were the ones that proved fatal. None of the 15 bullets fired by Kizzar struck Ferguson—though only one entered the apartment. Neither officer had fired a gun before while on a call. They'll both mark five years with the police bureau in March.
"I'd have done the same thing, done the call the exact same way over again," Jenson testified. "That's one of the things I asked myself since it happened."
But could things have gone differently? The transcripts touch on important questions: Did Kizzar and Jenson identify themselves? Did they know Ferguson might have a weapon? The transcripts also shed new light on Ferguson's troubled mental state in the days leading up to his death.
• What was Ferguson like that night? The night he died, Ferguson, 45, was agitated. His girlfriend's daughter, grandson, and son-in-law had moved into their tiny two-bedroom apartment just four days before, and he was having a hard time coping. He was in poor health, having beaten back cancer but still battling AIDS, depression, and anxiety.
Ferguson had recently begun taking his anxiety meds again, and that night he had popped a few pills too many. What's more, he had gotten drunk and stoned with neighbors, risking dangerous interactions with his medicine.
"It's not a good combination," said Terrie Baer, who lives across the hall. "If he took too much, he would act all wigged out, kind of, you know."
• Did Ferguson's BB gun look real? Ferguson had been showing his BB gun to neighbors—flouting his girlfriend's demands that he return it to the Big 5 where he bought it only a few weeks before. The gun was black, with the words "Colt Defender" painted over. And unlike kids' guns, it did not come with a telltale orange tip to easily convince someone it wasn't real. Neighbors, police, and even his family believed, until being told otherwise, that the gun fired bullets, not pellets.
• Did Jenson and Kizzar know Ferguson had some kind of gun? They came out once that same night, after Ferguson called 911 and complained an upstairs neighbor was threatening him. They happened to find him outside the mini-mart near his apartment, but he refused to answer their questions. They wrote the call off and moved along.
Another call came in an hour later, and now it was the neighbor Ferguson had complained about. Chad Crosby said Ferguson wanted him to come downstairs "so he could take care of him." Text on the officers' in-car computer this time said Ferguson had been reported, about a week earlier, showing off a gun and vaguely threatening Crosby.
But Crosby seemed more annoyed than worried, Kizzar said, and they "had no reason to believe" Ferguson was packing anything when they tried to tell him to go to sleep and knock it off.
• Did Ferguson know it was the cops knocking? Everyone agrees the officers never identified themselves. Ferguson's girlfriend, Marsha Lawson, was on the couch when the knocks came softly. She says she didn't see anyone through the peephole and was going to open the door until Ferguson decided he would do that instead. Jenson and Kizzar said they were in uniform, but acknowledged standing away from the door when knocking. Lawson was concerned enough that she apparently told Ferguson not to answer with his BB gun. She might have been even more worried if she knew it was police knocking and not a neighbor.
• Was Ferguson trying to commit "suicide by cop"? At one point, according to transcripts of her post-incident interview with detectives after the shooting, Lawson raised the notion that Ferguson may have wanted to die and chose that night's events to do it. But she retracted those statements, something she stressed during her grand jury testimony.
"I had mentioned it, and then after I mentioned it, I went, no, I'm wrong you know," she told jurors. "Looking back, you know, 11 days later, I don't believe that is what Darryel would do."