THE RECENT TRIAL of a Portland man accused of disorderly conduct, harassment, and interfering with a police officer appears to have turned to bite the officer involved, with four witnesses contradicting the officer's testimony and accusations of a cover-up being made in court.
According to court transcripts, Central Precinct Officer Jennifer Thompson was called to the Cheerful Tortoise bar on SW 6th on November 24, 2007, to respond to an alleged assault of a female.
During Thompson's investigation of the alleged assault, she stepped outside the bar to interview the alleged victim's boyfriend. At that point, the alleged victim's boyfriend began a verbal altercation with another of the bar's customers, Hung Tran—a commercial insurance salesman who had dropped by the bar to watch a football game and happened to be taking some air outside.
Accounts of what happened next varied at trial.
Officer Thompson told the court that Tran threatened to kick the other man's ass, that he squared off with him, and that Thompson had to ask Tran repeatedly to back off and step inside the bar. Thompson alleged that Tran pushed her, and then snuck past her to go back inside the bar. She followed him in, and tried to make him come back outside, but he pushed her into a stack of chairs, she alleged.
Thompson said she put Tran in a control hold and brought him outside, where he shoved her hand away, she alleged, so she tased him once in the chest using "drive stun" mode—touching the Taser to his skin, rather than shooting him from a distance using the Taser's probes.
Four other witnesses said differently. DaMarcus Hunt, a friend of Tran's, was sitting in the bar when Tran came back in. He says he saw Thompson grab hold of Tran from behind in a chokehold and shove him into the stack of chairs. Then, Thompson dragged Tran outside and started screaming commands at him, Hunt alleged, before tasing him twice with probes to his back, not once using drive stun to the chest as Thompson had testified, as Tran knelt on the ground in front of her with his hands behind his head.
Bar manager Natalia Holliman told the court that Thompson had shoved Tran into the chairs, that Thompson tased Tran in the back with probes, that wires were sticking out of his back, and that Thompson proceeded to pull Tran's digital camera and cell phone from his pockets and smash them on the ground as she was taking him into custody.
"She was highly excited, not in control, exciting the situation more than controlling it," Holliman said. "It almost felt like instigating a brawl."
Cocktail waitress Natalie Camelio said she also saw the officer tasing Tran in the back, while Tran himself told the court he felt he had been tased for no reason while doing his best to follow the officer's commands. He denied ever shoving the officer.
Photographs of Tran's back taken after his arrest showed the court, clearly, where the probes had punctured his skin. A computer log from Officer Thompson's Taser showed the court it was cycled twice—Thompson attempted to explain this by saying that her Taser had gone off accidentally in her holster prior to tasing Tran. She told the court she chose not to mention this in her arrest report at the direction of her sergeant.
"The entire case rests on Officer Thompson's testimony," said Tran's defense attorney Matthew McHenry, in his closing arguments. "This officer that lied over and over and over, she sat right there, looked you in the eye and told lies."
A jury took 40 minutes to find Tran not guilty on all four charges.
"Ninety-nine percent of officers are highly professional. What's rare is to have an officer be so blatant in mistruth," says McHenry. "And to have seemingly no regard for whether or not she would be caught in those mistruths."
"There were two different versions of events presented at trial," says Judge Stephen Bushong, before whom the case was tried on August 13. "And it is unusual to have that great a divergence between the stories presented."
"From what I have reviewed I see five people giving five different versions of one event," says Jeff Howes, senior deputy district attorney in charge of misdemeanors in Multnomah County. "That is far from sufficient to pursue a perjury charge."
Officer Thompson did not return a request for comment made through the Police Bureau's public information officer, Brian Schmautz.