Portland city attorneys have agreed to pay more than $2 million to settle a federal lawsuit filed by the family of Quanice Hayes, a Black teenager who was fatally shot by a Portland cop in 2017.
The settlement agreement, first reported by the Oregonian, will be finalized with a Portland City Council vote on March 10. In doing so, the city will be absolved of responsibility for Hayes' death. While the decision will bring welcome closure to a stressful legal battle, the Hayes family is determined to continue their fight for police accountability outside of the courtroom.
"I want to be clear, I don't think justice is being served whatsoever," said Steven Hayes, Quanice's uncle who represents his nephew's estate in the lawsuit.
Hayes was killed by Portland officer Andrew Hearst on February 9, 2017 after being chased by a group of officers into an alcove outside of a Northeast Portland house. Hayes, who was 17 years old at the time, was a suspect in an attempted carjacking and armed robbery in the area. After being cornered by police, Hayes followed orders to crawl on the ground out of the alcove toward Hearst. But when Hayes reached down to his waistband, Hearst fired his AR-15 rifle three times at Hayes, hitting him in the head and torso. Hayes died at the scene.
In court testimony, Hearst said he believed Hayes was reaching for a gun. Other officers testified that Hayes' pants had been falling down when they cornered him, suggesting he may have been just trying to pull them up. Only after Hearst killed Hayes did officers find a fake gun laying near Hayes' body. A Multnomah County grand jury declined to charge Hearst for killing Hayes.
Hayes' family filed a lawsuit in 2018, accusing Hearst of using excessive force against Hayes and blaming the City of Portland for failing to appropriately train its police officers. In pre-trial hearings, city attorneys listed reasons why Hayes and his mother, Venus Hayes, were solely responsible for Hayes' death. Those reasons included blaming Hayes for "failing to sleep properly" the night prior, owning a replica gun, stealing items from a car and a house, and breaking a homeowner's alarm system. Attorneys blamed Venus for acting negligently by not properly supervising a minor she was the sole guardian to.
In March 2020, a federal judge barred city attorneys from relying on those arguments when the civil lawsuit reached a juried trial. But, last month, the Hayes family chose to settle with the city instead of continuing the years-long path toward an eventual trial date.
The city has agreed to pay $1.5 million to Hayes' family and $595,081 to cover the family's attorneys fees, coming in at just under $2.1 million total. According to records collected by Portland Copwatch, a local police accountability group, the Hayes settlement will be the city's second largest payout over police use of force in Portland history. Portland Copwatch estimates PPB settlements have cost Portland taxpayers an average of $600,000 annually since 1993.
The decision to settle was ultimately made by Hayes' mother, Venus. Steven told the Mercury that the emotionally draining legal case had worn on Venus, whose parenting abilities were regularly critiqued by city lawyers.
"It's been rough on the whole family, but it's been especially hard for Venus," said Steven. "She's done fighting."
This exhaustion is not lost on the family's legal team.
"There’s an unbelievable amount of trauma that families have to go through in these cases when they lose a loved one and have to relive it through the course of the litigation," said J. Ashlee Albies, one of several attorneys representing Hayes' family. "We hope this provides a path to healing for them."
Steven said Venus plans on moving out of state after the settlement is finalized. The settlement funds will certainly benefit Venus and her other children, Steven said, "but it's not the same as having her child back."
"It's hard for me, though," said Steven, "because I'm not ready to give up. I was ready to keep fighting."
Steven, who's lived in Portland for nine years, has long advocated for Portland Police Bureau (PPB) to wear body cameras, a tool that he says could have made it easier to hold Hearst accountable for his nephew's death. Yet Portland City Council has held off on funding a pilot program to equip officers with cameras for numerous budget cycles. Steven said he'd also like to see PPB prioritize officer trainings on racial sensitivity and mental illness.
"I'm not against police, I think we need them," said Steven. "But they have to be trained the right way. This can't keep happening."
Hayes' death added momentum to the local movement toward increased police accountability and racial justice. Since Hayes' death, four more Black men have died at the hands of Portland police, each incident spurring protests and calls for reform.
Hayes' life and death garnered new attention during Portland's 2020 protests following the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by Minneapolis police. "Say his name: Quanice Hayes!" became a common rallying cry during the nightly marches and demonstrations, and posters of Hayes' face plastered Portland telephone poles, shop windows, and protest signs.
Steven said it was inspiring to see the number of people joining his family's fight to hold police departments across the country accountable.
"And the fact that my nephew was a part of it, that touched me in such a strong way," said Steven. "It gave me hope that we were headed toward change. But, I hate to say it, but I don't feel that way anymore."
Hayes death also turned his grandmother, Donna Hayes, into a staunch activist for police reform in Portland. Donna has repeatedly testified before City Council on policies related to police accountability, and continues to hold regular car caravans and demonstrations to memorialize her grandson and other Black men killed by police officers.
While she would have liked to continue fighting the city in court, Donna told the Mercury she understands why her daughter needed closure.
"The city dragged [Venus'] name through the mud," Donna said. "And she couldn't stand it any longer. But that doesn't become an ending to my protesting. I'm still going to do what I do. The police and the city don't want to acknowledge any wrongdoing for killing my grandson, and I won't let that stand."
Teressa Raiford, founder of police accountability group Don't Shoot Portland, has grown close with the Hayes family since Quanice's death. In an email to the Mercury, Raiford shared gratitude for the family's legal fight.
"Involvement on key policy issues in the criminal justice system and our courts has been moved forward because of their courage," Raiford wrote. "It is emotional and harsh to be forced to fight such a huge system, and I understand why some families settle. I applaud their courage in all the actions they have taken toward justice."
Albies, the Hayes' family lawyer, said that while her clients' case has hopefully highlighted systemic issues in the criminal justice system, litigation alone won't change Portland's policing standards.
"It the people in this city demanding accountability that is truly necessary for there to be change," Albies said.
Steven said he will keep pushing for body cameras at PPB. Donna will continue to hold monthly protests and accept invitations to speak about her grandson at demonstrations.
"I'm not going to let the people of Portland forget," said Donna. "I'll make sure of that."