But when it was quiet, and the door had closed again, what had happened was unmistakable: Darryel Dwayne Ferguson was on the other side, bleeding to death after two bullets had ripped through his belly and and a third, bouncing off his backbone, had unzipped his aorta. A BB gun, a nearly exact replica of a 9mm Colt Defender, was found near his body.
"These calls come out all the time," said Officer 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 on a door in Southeast Portland turn into Portland's fifth police shooting of 2010—and the fifth to involve a man battling mental illness? Grand jury transcripts released this morning—245 pages of testimony from cops, neighbors, and Ferguson's survivors, part of 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 fateful encounter—they had no choice. When Ferguson opened his door just after 4 in the morning December 17, he immediately pointed a gun (or, at least, what looked like one) at Jenson's head.
Training kicked in, the cops testified. And as Kizzar unloaded most of his Glock 17 in Ferguson's direction, outside an apartment that officers didn't yet know also shielded Ferguson's girlfriend and her family, including a 3-year-old boy, Jenson spun to safety and got a line on Ferguson that allowed him to fire his own handgun. His bullets, it's believed, were the ones that proved fatal. None of the 15 bullets fired by Kizzar struck Ferguson, while only one entered the apartment. Neither officer had fired a gun before while on a call. They'll 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 the transcripts, even as they allow Jenson and Kizzar to explain their actions, also raise questions about what might have gone differently and shed new light on Ferguson's mental state that night and in the weeks before the shooting. Keep reading for a list of highlights.
• What was Ferguson like that night? The 45-year-old, having fought off cancer but now battling AIDS, along with depression and anxiety, was agitated. His girlfriend's daughter, grandson, and son-in-law had just moved into their tiny two-bedroom apartment four days before, and that had him on edge. Ferguson had only recently begun taking his anxiety meds again, and may have taken too many of them. What's more, he had gone over to the across-the-hall neighbor's to get stoned and drink most of a sixer. He may have had more to drink after going upstairs to visit another neighbor.
"It's not a good combination," the alcohol and the meds, said Terrie Baer, who lives across the hall. "If he took too much, he would act all wigged out, kind of, you know, I guess wigged out to me means like hyper and like a meth addict."
• 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. She worried that because of his record (he's a registered sex offender, based on 1988 rape conviction) that he would get into trouble. 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.
• Should Jenson and Kizzar have called for backup, planning for the possibility that Ferguson was armed? They had come out once that night, after Ferguson called them to complain an upstairs neighbor was threatening him. They happened upon him at a min-mart near his apartment at 122nd and Burnside, but he refused to answer their questions and walked back home "ranting and raving." They wrote the call off and went to help another officer a few miles away.
An hour later, the neighbor whom Ferguson had called about had called instead, according to Kizzar, and said Ferguson wanted him to come downstairs "so he could take care of him." Text on their in-car computer indicated this time that Ferguson had been reported, about a week before, showing off a handgun and vaguely threatening the neighbor, Chad Crosby.
But they weren't convinced Ferguson was packing anything, and they said it was "standard" not to call in any other units. "I had no reason to believe that he was armed," Kizzar said. So they rang up Crosby and suggested he do his part to defuse tensions and not call or see Ferguson. They were knocking on Ferguson's door to tell him to do the same when all hell broke loose and he allegedly pointed, with his right hand, the BB gun at Jenson's forehead.
• Did Ferguson know it was the cops at his door? Apparently not. The officers didn't identify or reveal themselves as police when knocking. Everyone agrees on that point. Ferguson's girlfriend, Marsha Lawson, was lying on the couch when the cops' knocks came softly. She says she didn't see anyone through the peephole (the cops are trained never to stand in front of door, to avoid getting shot) and was going to open the door until Ferguson decided he would do that instead. It's fair to ask whether this would have played out the same way if Ferguson—or his girlfriend—knew it was police and not, perhaps, Crosby or another neighbor.
There is conflicting testimony about whether he had the gun out when he opened the door. Lawson says she turned to walk back to the couch but saw that Ferguson used both hands to unlock the door. She also told grand jurors that the BB gun was found far from Ferguson's body and that she picked it up and put it on the kitchen counter. Detectives testified that after the shooting, she had said the gun was much closer to Ferguson before picking it up. Her son-in-law, Jeremy Mankins, also told detectives he remembered Lawson telling Ferguson specifically not to open the door with a gun in his hand.
Although, curiously, Mankins at first told grand jurors he didn't remember hearing Lawson say that—only to change his mind and agree that he had, in fact, heard it. Testimony later said that even if he had had the gun tucked away, there would have been enough time to pull it out after opening the door. Everyone agrees the officers ordered Ferguson to drop the BB gun before firing their own sidearms at him.
• Would getting help to Ferguson faster have kept him alive? Probably not, says Karen Gunson, the state medical examiner. He might have survived the two wounds that punctured his abdomen, ripping through his bowels and piercing his liver. But the third shot, which split his aorta, also punctured both lungs. Lawson initially thought Ferguson had been Tasered but guessed soon after, according to detectives who interviewed her, that Ferguson was dead. Officers outside weren't sure whether he might still be alive and armed, and called in hostage negotiators, including Liesbeth Gerritsen, the police bureau's crisis training coordinator, before learning otherwise.
• Was Ferguson trying to commit "suicide by cop"? At one point, according to transcripts of her 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. Looking back, you know, eleven days later, I don't believe that is what Darryel would do."