Corey Weston Cox was already hesitant to trust local police before May 18. But following his high-stress encounter with Portland police Tuesday morning, Cox said he has little reason to believe cops with the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) are at all interested in the wellbeing of the community they serve.
"It's pathetic to see," said Cox. "They have one job, and they're not doing it."
Around 7:30 am Tuesday, Cox woke up to police sirens outside his house in Portland's Woodlawn neighborhood. After getting dressed, Cox found his roommate Timm Swales was already on the front lawn, filming the cluster of police parked across the street on his phone. Cox learned that PPB officers had arrived to investigate a car that was parked at the intersection of NE Bryant and 8th, with two men passed out in the front seats. The PPB officers who responded were huddled behind the vehicle, next to several parked patrol cars.
A group of neighbors, including Swales, were shouting at the police that the two men needed medical attention. But officers on the scene allegedly explained that, because they believed there were guns in the vehicle, officers were waiting to approach the men.
"The cops had guns pointed everywhere—at the vehicle, at us—and they had their shields up," Cox told the Mercury Wednesday. "But they weren't doing anything. Meanwhile, we knew the guys in the vehicle were unresponsive. My roommate had tried to wake them up before the police showed up."
Cox joined the chorus of neighbors asking the police to check on the mens' health. That's when, according to Cox, one officer smirked and asked him, "Will you go do it?"
"I thought, 'Are they actually serious?'" Cox said. "At first it seemed like they were joking, but that’s disgusting to make a joke like that, regardless of whether it was hypothetical or not. And they still didn't do anything. So I went and got my shoes on and walked out into the street with my hands in the air towards the car."
Another neighbor who filmed the incident said they also heard an officer ask Cox this question. The neighbor, who requested the Mercury not publish their name out of privacy concerns, recalled in an email to the Mercury that the officer spoke to Cox "in a tone that was sort of mocking him, as in 'if you’re so brave why don’t you do it?'"
"I don’t actually believe they meant for him to approach the vehicle," they wrote, "but the neighbor did take it literally, obviously."
As Cox walked toward the driver's side window of the vehicle, officers trained their guns at him, while he shouted that he was "checking on the civilians in the car." In Swales' video of the encounter, an officer is heard responding, "There's a gun in that car."
"I don't care," Cox replies.
Cox told the Mercury Wednesday that he "had no concern about being shot by people in car."
"They were completely passed out and they needed medical attention," Cox said. "The only danger I was afraid of was the Portland police. They had their guns drawn and pointed at me. I am so surprised that they did not shoot me in that moment. It was probably the stupidest thing I've ever done."
Cox, who is white, said he believes the outcome could have been different if he was a person of color. The two men in the car were Black.
After reaching the vehicle, Cox looked at the men in the car and saw both appeared to have a faint pulse. He relayed this information to the police. Not long after, Swales video shows a line of officers marching toward the driver's side door of the vehicle, armed with shields and guns. "Get out of the way!" one officer is heard barking at Cox.
Cox said the officers also threatened him with arrest for standing in the street. After retreating to his front lawn, Cox watched as officers removed the unconscious men from the vehicle and, eventually, called ambulances to the scene to take them to the hospital. Swales said that, according to his videos, it took around 30 minutes for paramedics to arrive after officers initially arrived on the scene.
Another video taken by Swales at the scene shows another officer who appears to be filming Swales and Cox with his cell phone. Swales follows the officer, and then identifies him as Brian Hunzeker, the former Portland Police Association president who left the position in March for making an unknown "mistake" related to PPB's investigation into false allegations of City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty being involved in a hit-and-run. It's unknown if the officer on Swales' film is actually Hunzeker, but he waves at the camera after Swales says "You're the old PPA head, aren't you?"
As police were preparing to leave, Cox tried to speak with one officer on the scene about what had happened. Swales also captured this moment on film. In the clip, Cox stops an officer (identified by the last name Engen embroidered on his vest) before entering his patrol car. "Why did it take so long to get them help?" Cox is recorded asking Engen. Instead of responding, Engen gets into the driver's seat of his vehicle and closes the door.
Rattled by the experience, Cox filed a complaint against the officers with the city's Independent Police Review (IPR), the department that investigates police misconduct claims. Swales also filed an IPR report against Hunzeker for filming him.
"At the end of the day, if the PPB was truly about protecting and serving people of the city and doing a decent job at that, I wouldn’t have had to do their job for them," Cox said.
PPB's media release regarding the incident tells a different story than what Cox experienced.
In a press release sent Tuesday afternoon, PPB states that officers approached the vehicle shortly after arriving at the scene, but retreated after noticing a handgun laid at the feet of the driver.
"There were no obvious signs of trauma to either person in the car, and officers suspected the people in the car may be under the influence of intoxicants," the release reads. "Officers spent several minutes loud hailing the people from a distance, but received no response. Officers made a safe tactical plan and approached the car utilizing a handheld shield for protection."
The PPB report goes on: "While performing this tactical plan, some onlookers were aggressively shouting at police, making it difficult for officers to hear and carry out their duties in order to ensure the safety of the scene so those involved could get the medical aid they needed."
Officers reportedly recovered two handguns from the vehicle.
Cox called the press release "ludicrous" for erasing the role the neighbors played in the incident.
"These guys need medical help, and [the police were] not doing anything to get medical help," said Cox. "That’s what people were 'aggressively shouting' about. I don't want credit, I just want to tell the truth."
Kevin Allen, a spokesperson for PPB, said that the way officers approached the parked car was in alignment with PPB training.
"Checking the welfare of someone unconscious in a car is a fairly common call we get," Allen said, in an email to the Mercury. "Our main goal is to see if the person needs help, medical or otherwise. These calls can be dangerous because if people wake up suddenly with the police at their window their reaction is unpredictable. At times they can be calm and gladly accept the help of the officer, or they could try to drive away, or they could pull out a weapon. In all cases where the officers see firearms, that changes the response. We are trained to proceed carefully because we want to minimize the chance that anyone could get hurt, be it the subject involved, the officers, and the general public."
"In any case," Allen continued, "having community members interject themselves into the call response, especially one where there are guns, is dangerous and adds a significant complication to the situation. We appreciate that our community is engaged in what we do, and are as concerned about others’ welfare as we are."
Allen added that paramedics don't arrive to these kinds of calls until PPB can determine that the scene is safe.
Cox said he can still see the face of the unconscious man in his head, and wonders if his intervention in the incident wasn't for naught.
"I hope I was able to get him to get medical attention in time so he didn't die," Cox said.
In its Tuesday press release, PPB wrote that both men were breathing, but unresponsive, at the scene. On Wednesday, Allen said PPB doesn't have updated information about their medical conditions.