Early Friday morning, 45-year-old Jason Washington became the first person to be fatally shot by Portland State University's newly-armed police force. According to friends and witnesses, Washington was trying to break up a fight outside of the Cheerful Tortoise bar on SW 6th and College St around 1:30 am Friday when a pair of PSU officers showed up. While intervening in the fight, Washington fell, and his personal handgun fell out of its holster. In a video taken by a bystander, Washington reaches to retrieve the dropped weapon. That's the moment officers fired.
By yesterday afternoon, PSU officials were already in closed-door meetings discussing their legal strategy for defending the two officers involved in the shooting. PSU senior Olivia Pace says that's why the Portland State University Student Union (PSUSU) acted so quickly to organize its own response.
"We don't want the university to control this story," Pace says. "The fact that someone was shot and killed on our campus means our campus is unsafe."
Pace and other PSUSU members will hold a rally a Pioneer Square at 5 pm tomorrow, July 1, in response to Washington's death. The event may end in a march to PSU's Campus Public Safety Office, Pace says.
The rally will coincidently fall exactly three years after PSU's Board of Trustees voted to arm PSU's campus police force. The majority of the student body and PSU faculty were opposed to this decision. While the PSU board argued the armed force would protect students from violent criminals—especially those committing sexual assault on campus—most students and faculty believed gun-toting cops would only lessen the campus' safety.
"This is why we didn't want armed police," Pace says. "The university was wrong the whole time. This was never about our safety." She says it was only a matter of time before someone would be wrongfully shot by an armed officer.
Washington was not a PSU student, but a Navy veteran who worked for the United States Postal Service. He was married with three daughters and one granddaughter. In an interview with OPB, David Norton, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Branch 82, said Washington was socializing with his coworkers when he died.
PSU's Chief of Police Donnell Tanksley currently oversees 14 armed police officers, all of whom receive the same kind of training as a Portland police officer. According to an email the Mercury received by Tanksley, the chief is out of the office until July 5.
PSU has since placed the two officers involved in the shooting, Shawn McKenzie and James Dewey, on paid administrative leave. Portland Police Bureau (PPB) is investigating the shooting, but hasn't offered any new information on the case since yesterday.