THE COPS pretty much knew—when they saw not just one viral video of officers scuffling with and Tasering a 16-year-old from Roosevelt High, but two—that they had an "oh shit" moment on their hands.
That lightning bolt didn't wait long to hit, either. It was Sunday night, just hours after Thai Gurule, a sophomore football player, was taken to a hospital and then charged with resisting arrest.
The recordings of the encounter, which erupted in downtown St. Johns a little after midnight early on Sunday morning, flooded social media nearly immediately—with dispiriting talk about cops targeting young black men and plans brewing for a community protest this Wednesday, September 17.
And it wasn't long before that outcry—louder than ever in a post-Ferguson America—reached the cops' ears, too. They started looking for ways to turn down the heat.
Monday morning, with the story of what happened to Gurule still absent from Portland's news sites, the police bureau made its move. In an unusual departure from protocol, the bureau not only released a summary of the incident and announced a formal review, but it also proactively shared 911 audio, police reports, and links to both eyewitness videos.
We learned that officers had been called about a group of teens who'd been making threats and messing with property in St. Johns—and that officers said they were trying to calmly detain Gurule for questioning when, they say, he refused to be handcuffed. We even learned that the officers all reported injuries.
But we also learned—troublingly—that officers didn't know for sure that Gurule and his friends were the same kids from the 911 calls, even if they thought so because they matched a description. Gurule's brother, Giovanni, who also scuffled with cops after watching his skinny brother being punched, kneed, and Tasered, later told reporters they were headed to a skatepark.
The bureau has issued disclosures like this before—like the time it shared footage of officers Tasering a man with mental illness in Whole Foods before reporters got wind of it. But all of that information at once, accountability experts say, was unprecedented.
"This is very unusual," says Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch. "I can't think of any case where, within two days, we saw this kind of paperwork."
It's smart media management—and it's an encouraging nod to transparency. While the reports and calls don't answer whether the cops who stopped Gurule were within policy—in fact they may raise more questions—their release short-circuits potential criticisms about the bureau circling the wagons and clamming up in the face of controversy.
"We've come to a point in the world where people share things on social media and they go viral very quickly," says Sergeant Pete Simpson, the bureau's lead spokesman. "When the incident involves the police bureau and has the potential be very inflammatory, we want to get as much information out as quickly as possible."
Simpson says the bureau doesn't have any reason, yet, to believe the officers violated policy in tangling with Gurule: "It's a distinct possibility that if his actions were those of a calm young man, we would have walked away."
But he said the bureau wants to continue showing more of its cards and sooner, no matter what they reveal. He invoked an expected shift toward body-mounted cameras, for hundreds of patrol officers—and suggested an interesting pledge.
"That may be the new standard," Simpson says. "We don't move as fast as social media. I don't think we're going to try. But we're going to take opportunities when we can to provide context."