Officer Dane Reister, fired last month for mistakenly shooting a mentally ill man with live shotgun rounds, had a history of slip-ups and accidents involving police property, according to a copy of his termination letter obtained by the Mercury—including a 2006 incident in which he'd injured a fellow cop with a smoke grenade he'd forgotten to unload.
Beyond that glaring mistake, Reister was counseled for failing to keep adequate control of police property and for getting into an accident he could have prevented. He also was suspended early in his career for misuse of overtime.
That record factored heavily in the decision to fire Reister, who, in 19 years as a cop, had served as a crisis intervention officer and a training instructor for young cops. Chief Mike Reese was scathingly blunt in explaining his thinking in the six-page termination letter (pdf) he'd given to Reister on October 2. While Reese acknowledged that some changes could be made in bureau procedure on handling ammunition (and, indeed, have been made), the fault was all Reister's.
But Reese also made clear the horror of what happened to the man Reister shot in the summer of 2011, William Kyle Monroe, who survived but with permanent injuries, was equally important.
There is not an excuse sufficient enough to relieve you of responsiblity for not knowing what rounds you loaded in a weapon before firing it, particularly when that weapon is fired at another person with serious—and potentially deadly—consequences.
Reese's letter also confirmed he wasn't going out of his way to punish Reister. He said the city's Police Review Board, a panel made up of civilians, the city's Independent Police Review Director, and several officers—unanimously agreed that Reister deserved to be fired.
The bureau initially declined to release the termination letter when asked by the Mercury and the Oregonian. The papers appealed to the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, which referred the matter to its counterparts in Clackamas County in part because criminal charges against Reister, for negligent wounding, are still pending. The criminal case holdup involves, in part, the 2006 incident Reese cited in his letter.
The Clackamas County DA's Office ruled last week that the police bureau had to turn over the letter. It also ruled favorably (pdf) on three other document requests made, in this case, solely by the Mercury: the bureau's training review (pdf) of the shooting, the commander's findings memo (pdf), and the internal investigation (pdf) of the case.
The city had tried to argue that releasing the documents would embarrass Reister, who was just a low-level cop and not a commanding officer. It also argued that enough about the shooting had already been made public. The Clackamas County DA's office agreed with us, especially given the criminal case, that more information about the case—including a look at the bureau's response—was clearly in the public's interest.
Update 2:48 PM: So here's a quick recap of what's in those other documents. Reister worked an overtime shift in Old Town the night before, until 4 am, where he carried for reasons he wasn't clear about, a loaded lethal shotgun—a departure from his usual choice of an AR-15 rifle. He doesn't remember how he loaded lethal rounds into his less-lethal shotgun the next day. He also said he didn't realize, despite briefly pausing between trigger pulls, he was firing lethal rounds—which kick and sound differently than beanbag rounds.
This is relevant, because the bureau's investigation also found Reister was never actually certified to carry a less-lethal shotgun. He missed the two-day course for certified carriers and attended, instead, a class generally on less-lethal weapons as part of his training in 2002 before joining the bureau's riot squad. Reister was among a handful of cops who fell into that loophole, thinking that class certified them. It did not. And it wasn't clear beanbag guns were ever demonstrated in the class.
Lesson plans are missing—which the bureau's training division has identified as a broader problem among the police bureau's various specialty units. In essence, the training division currently can't vouch that officers' training records are as they seem.
The decision to use force, however, was blessed by bureau commanders. Central Precinct Commander Bob Day and witness cops all said this was a textbook case of when a beanbag gun should be used. Provided the right bullets had been loaded inside.
My mind is just sp- sp- spinning and I walk down the hill to where I believe I was standing and I see a spent 12 gage lethal round. And my heart sinks. And it makes sense. And my feelings of uh, of uh, relief that it was over, that it had, that we had safely uh, uh, stopped this guy before harming somebody went from relief to, oh my god, what just happened? A horrible mistake has been made. And uh - I see that round and it happens to be that a sergeant is standing right there, Sergeant MARTY SCHELL. And I look at the sergeant and I say immediately, I said Sergeant, I fired lethal rounds. That's a lethal round, I fired lethal rounds. I wanted him to know right away so that he knew what the deal, what was going on so he -I wanted that guy to get medical help."
Day looked into the confusion over Reister's certification and said the allegation that he violated bureau policy on less-lethal munitions was unproven. He counted the ammunition mistake as a matter of basic competency and said that allegation was sustained. Reese agreed with the first, but not the second. When the bureau announced Reister's dismissal last month, both directives—on competency and less-lethal procedures—were mentioned.