A Multnomah County grand jury has declined to charge Portland Police Officer Zachary DeLong for killing Robert Delgado in Lents Park in April.
DeLong and another officer drove to Lents Park on April 19 after receiving a 911 call describing a man in the Southeast Portland park playing with a handgun. When the officers arrived, Delgado was not clearly observed holding a gun, but police said he appeared "agitated" and did not respond to officers' demands. Four minutes after arriving, DeLong shot Delgado from about 90 feet away. Only after shooting Delgado did officers find he was carrying a replica handgun. Delgado died at the scene. He was 46 years old.
The grand jury's ruling, announced Friday morning, means that the jury believed DeLong's decision to use deadly force against Delgado was not criminal under Oregon law.
Delgado was unhoused at the time of his death, and neighbors said he frequently slept in Lents Park. His friends and family say Delgado had struggled to get help to address mental health issues for years.
The ruling is the result of a new format of grand jury proceedings. After hearing a request from Delgado's family to appoint an outside prosecutor (as opposed to a county prosecutor) to investigate Delgado's death, Schmidt decided to bring in two Assistant Attorneys General with the state Department of Justice to assist county prosecutors in investigating the case. The state prosecutors also presented evidence to the grand jury alongside county attorneys.
At the time, Schmidt said the the process would "ensure the death investigation of Robert Delgado is just and impartial," by dissuading the public's concerns about county prosecutors' allegiance with police officers.
"It will serve to help restore legitimacy and trust in the criminal justice system," said Schmidt. "I look forward to having conversations that address how these investigations are handled in the future to maintain consistent and standardized practices statewide the moment an officer uses deadly force.”
Delgado's family shared a joint statement on the news through their legal team this morning.
"We are still grieving the loss of Robert, whom we loved very much," they write. "We are disappointed in the grand jury’s decision, but not surprised, and will review the facts carefully in the weeks to come. While we hope that the investigation was thorough, it is impossible to trust the system as it exists now when the Portland Police Bureau is tasked with investigating itself. Therefore the family will engage in its own investigation before determining its next steps."
"While we don’t know exactly what happened here," they continue, "we do know that the mental health system is broken and needs to be fixed. We know that an unarmed man in crisis was shot and killed in a Portland park. We know that it’s not the first time, and until we fix this system, we know that it will not be the last time."
Delgado was the first person to die at the hands of PPB in 2021. Since his death, five other individuals have been shot by PPB officers. Two of them were fatally shot. Last week, a Multnomah County grand jury declined to charge the PPB officer who shot and killed Michael Townsend in June.