Last Sunday, Andre Gladen Sr., a 36-year-old semi-blind Black man with schizophrenia, was fatally shot by a Portland police officer. Now, his 21-year-old son, Andre Gladen Jr. of Sacramento, California, plans to sue the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) over his father's death.
"I plan on doing it myself. I know how it works," Gladen Jr., 21, told the Mercury. "I especially plan on taking legal action because he is physically and mentally impaired. He's missing an eye, he's afraid. The officer should have seen that right off the bat and acted accordingly."
Gladen Sr. was shot by Officer Consider Vosu after a harrowing series of events. According to witness interviews gathered by the Oregonian, Gladen Sr. showed up on a stranger's doorstep in Southeast Portland seeking help. He was barefoot and appeared to be in some kind of mental health crisis. Desmond Pescaia, the man who opened the door, tried to calm down Gladen Sr., offering him cash to ride the MAX or get some food. After being told to leave, Gladen Sr. appeared to fall asleep on Pescaia's front porch. Only then did the PPB get a call to help remove the unwelcome guest from the SE Market and 96th property.
"Black shootings are a common thing, we all know that. But this isn't just any Black shooting. It's a Black shooting of my father now. It’s not Trayvon Martin. It's my dad.""
Gladen Sr. woke up when Officer Vosu arrived, and yelled at Pescaia to let him inside. Pescaia opened the door, and Gladen Sr. bolted inside, with Vosu following close behind him. According to Pescaia, the two men wrestled on the floor as Vosu tried, unsuccessfully, to handcuff Gladen Sr., at which point Vosu then shocked Gladen Sr. with a Taser. According to police reports, Gladen Sr. then pulled out a knife and ran towards Vosu, who fired his gun. Gladen Sr. was taken to the hospital, where he was declared dead on arrival.
Gladen Jr., who lives in Sacramento, says he only recently had come to really know his father. Gladen Jr. spent most of his childhood in foster care, so his early memories of his father consist of short visits and interactions. Gladen Jr. is the oldest of Gladen Sr.'s five children, the youngest being 14.
"He was caring person. When he was sober, he was one of the smartest people I knew, especially for someone who has a mental disorder," says Gladen Jr. "When he drank and smoked... those were the moments I didn’t want to be around him."
But over the last few years, Gladen Sr. had been working to rebuild his relationship with his eldest son. Gladen Sr. especially loved spending time with his grandchild, Gladen Jr.'s two-year-old son Josiah, and hearing about Gladen Jr.'s burgeoning boxing career.
"He was a great grandfather and really encouraging about my boxing," says Gladen Jr. "I think he knew it was too late for him to become something or someone, so he really focused on me achieving my goals. That's what makes this so hard... seeing how much better he was doing."
Gladen Jr. is hesitant to place all the blame for his father's death on Officer Vosu, and says he understands officers are "under a lot of stress" and their actions reflect the training they've received.
But based on Portland's rocky history with police shootings, Gladen Jr. says the decision to fire at his father was a clear mistake. The PPB has been working to improve the way its police interact with mentally ill Portlanders since 2012, when the US Department of Justice found that PPB officers engaged in "a pattern or practice of using excessive force against people in a perceived mental health crisis."
"Mentally challenged people don't think like we do. I don’t know what my dad could have done differently in this situation," said Gladen Jr. "If this isn't [the PPB's] first time shooting and killing a disabled person, why wouldn’t the officer try something different? The police should maybe be sending someone out who might understand his mental illness, and not treat him like a criminal. At least shoot him with beanbags... give him a chance of survival."
Gladen Sr. is the third person fatally shot by a Portland police officer in the past year while having a mental health crisis. Multnomah County grand juries cleared all officers involved in those shootings from any criminal charges.
Vosu is currently on paid administrative leave from the police bureau until the county concludes an investigation into his conduct.
"If this isn't [the police's] first time shooting and killing a disabled person, why wouldn’t the officer try something different? The police should maybe be sending someone out who might understand his mental illness, and not treat him like a criminal."
Gladen Jr.'s mother, Brittany Johnson, who also lives in Sacramento, supports her son's decision to sue the police department. She's known Gladen Sr. since she was 10 years old, and can attest to the trauma that impacted his mental illness. Johnson says that when Gladen Sr. was a kid, his cousin Ernest was fatally shot by a police officer in California. Johnson says that Gladen Sr. would have a mental health "episode" brought about by his schizophrenia about once a year. He told Johnson that he'd often see and speak with Ernest during these episodes.
According to Desmond Pescaia, Gladen Sr. mentioned the name "Ernest" when he showed up at his door Sunday.
"He doesn't have any idea what's going on when he has an episode," Johnson says. "You can tell it was no different on the day he died."
Gladen Jr. says he wants to wait until his father's autopsy is released—and any additional information is revealed about the knife Gladen Sr. was allegedly carrying—before filing any litigation against the Portland police. He adds that he doesn't want to bring more stress to his family by filing a lawsuit that won't be successful, and that he knows whatever action he takes could impact how future African American families seek justice when their family member is killed by a police officer.
"Black shootings are a common thing, we all know that. It's terrible," says Gladen Jr. "But this isn't just any Black shooting. It's a Black shooting of my father now. It’s not Trayvon Martin. It's my dad."
Gladen Sr.'s family has organized an online fundraiser to help cover the cost of his funeral.