On February 9, 2017, two Portland police officers fired bullets into the abdomen and arm of 59-year-old Don Perkins, a man in an apparent mental health crisis. Perkins survived the shooting. Now, two and a half years after the incident, Portland City Council has agreed to pay Perkins $60,000 for his permanent injuries at the hands of the police.
This payout—approved during today’s City Council session—is the result of a settlement agreement with Perkins’ lawyer, who sued the city for wrongful use of force, negligence, and civil rights violations in March 2018. According to the City Attorney’s office, if the lawsuit continued to play out, “there is risk the city may be found liable.”
Perkins called 911 about 45 minutes before the February 9 encounter. According to Portland Police Bureau (PPB), Perkins had said he was suicidal and taking pills while driving around Southeast Portland. Officers Roger Walsh and Bradley Clark eventually came across Perkins on SE 22nd Ave. near SE Powell Blvd., sitting inside the van that also served as his home.
According to the officers, something that looked like a handgun fell out of the van. When Perkins reached to pick up the item (which we now know was a replica gun), officers fired.
At the time, PPB claimed it was an attempted “suicide by cop.” A Multnomah County grand jury agreed, absolving Walsh and Clark of any criminal liability a month later. A lawsuit filed by Perkins’ lawyers, however, accuses the city of failing to properly train its officers on how to interact with people threatening suicide without shooting them.
“Assaulting, arresting and detaining Plaintiff was severe and disproportionate to his alleged behavior and therefore shocks the conscience,” reads the lawsuit.
“As a direct result of Defendants’ negligence and violations of his rights,” the lawsuit continues, “plaintiff suffered two gunshot wounds, requiring multiple surgeries, ongoing right arm neuropathy, including both pain and numbness, permanent impediment to his breath, [and] post-traumatic stress disorder.”
After being sent to the hospital with gunshot wounds, Perkins was allegedly committed to a mental health facility.
Perkins requested just over $1,300,000 in both non-economic and economic damages. The city’s approved $60,000 is 5 percent of that initial request.
In the city's response to the lawsuit, a city attorney claims that it was Perkins’ fault he was shot by police officers that evening.
"Plaintiff’s own actions or inaction created a foreseeable risk of harm which a reasonable person would have avoided,” writes Senior Deputy City Attorney Robert Yamachika.
Yamachika points to the fact that Perkins disobeyed police orders, didn’t provide useful information to the 911 operator, and was rude to officers who arrived at the scene. Absent from this analysis is the fact that Perkins’ mental health was clearly altered at the time of the encounter.
Five years prior to Perkins’ shooting, a US Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation discovered that PPB has a “pattern and practice” of disproportionately using excessive force against people in a perceived mental health crises. By the time of Perkins’ encounter with the police, the PPB had agreed to improve mental health and de-escalation training for officers.
Perkins was shot the same day PPB officer Andrew Hearst shot and killed 17-year-old Quanice Hayes, who was also carrying a replica gun. Hayes’ family has also filed a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Portland for Hayes’ death, which continues to weave through federal court.