The Portland Police Bureau (PPB) has identified 30-year-old Samuel E. Rice as the man who was fatally shot by an officer on Wednesday morning.
Rice was shot in the head by PPB Officer Kelly VanBlokland during a perceived hostage scenario at the Del Rancho Motel on SE 82nd. Officers said Rice had attempted to stab a woman and was holding her hostage in a hotel room. It's still unknown if the officers entered the room or if Rice opened the door, but "at some point during the incident, an officer fired a shot, striking and killing the suspect," according to PPB spokesperson Chris Burley.
Ken Hansen says he was not surprised to hear of his former client's death.
Hansen is the state director of a program that contracts with local governments to provide support for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He asked the Mercury to not mention the name of the program and noted he was speaking solely on his own behalf. Hansen says he and his colleagues worked closely with Rice for a five-month period earlier this year, and that Rice suffered from a developmental disability and mental illness. Hansen says he's certain that at the time of his death Rice was in the midst of a mental health crisis.
"What police didn't know was [that Rice was] living completely outside of reality, in a mental psychosis," Hansen says. "He had no idea what was going on or who he was talking to. That's the story missing from the reports so far. It's easier for the community to handle a bad-guy versus good-guy story."
Hansen alleges that Rice had been dealing with extreme mental health issues for many years. Hansen also said he was present when those issues turned violent, like the time Rice threw a cinderblock through Hansen's car window. Hansen says he and his coworkers have called PPB at least a dozen times in an attempt to get Rice long-term help.
"It's the unfortunate reality that we have to go through the police," says Hansen. "There aren't other options."
PPB data supports Hansen's claims. In a press release sent this afternoon, Burley notes that in the past, PPB sent out Behavioral Health Unit officers to connect Rice with mental health services. But, Burley notes, Rice declined PPB's assistance. As an adult, Rice had the right to do so, but Hansen says PPB should have done more.
"He was declining services, but he wasn't understanding what that meant. He was too deep into a state of psychosis," says Hansen, who witnessed a number of Rice's interactions with PPB officers. "He needed to be arrested, placed on a police hold, and then placed in psychiatric care."
According to PPB directives, an officer can forcibly detain someone when, "as a result of a mental health crisis, a person may lack the capacity to make sound judgments about their personal situation."
A Multnomah County Grand Jury will determine whether or not VanBlokland's shooting was justified next month, Burley estimates.
"No police officer wants to use lethal force, and it is with great responsibility that we accept this authority," PPB Chief Danielle Outlaw said in the press release.
Rice's death is the second time this year a PPB officer fatally shot a man perceived to be in a mental health crisis. In April, police shot and killed 48-year-old John Elifritz in a Southeast homeless shelter. Witnesses describe Elifritz stabbing himself in the neck and acting in a state of mental crisis before police opened fire. A Multnomah County grand jury later ruled that all involved officers were justified in shooting Elifritz.
"These situations are not unusual anymore," says Hansen. "And as long as we continue putting people with mental illnesses in jail and treating them like criminals, that won't change."