Skyler Delgado knows the justice system can't bring his father back, but he's hoping a lawsuit can spur change in Portland policing.
Skyler is the son of Robert Delgado, who was shot and killed by police at Lents Park in 2021. He's now suing the city of Portland over his father's death.
A complaint filed in district court Tuesday, April 11, alleges civil rights violations, wrongful death, and battery on behalf of his late father. The lawsuit comes nearly two years after Robert Delgado’s death. Delgado, 46, was fatally shot while experiencing a mental health crisis that led to an altercation with police. He was unhoused at the time, reportedly living in a tent at the park.
Skyler, who lives in Arizona, said he hopes the litigation leads to policy reform and greater transparency within the Portland Police Bureau.
"It’s early in the case and we would like to know more, but for now what is apparent is that we need more transparency between law enforcement and civilians," Skyler said in a statement provided to the Mercury via his attorney. "We could start by implementing body cams and by not having internal investigations. These cases need to be investigated by independent, objective agencies—not the same bureau that committed the act. Also, better training and making sure lethal force is their last resort.”
Grand jury reports indicated witnesses saw Delgado in Lents Park on April 16, 2021 with what appeared to be a handgun. The weapon was actually a BB gun resembling a handgun. The gun had an orange tip, consistent with fake guns, the lawsuit states.
Witnesses recalled Delgado holding the BB gun in different stances, aimed mostly at a fence overlooking an empty baseball stadium, but said he didn’t point it at anyone. At some point, passersby called the city’s non-emergency number.
Officer Zachary DeLong, who was part of Portland Police Bureau’s Enhanced Crisis Intervention Team, arrived first, followed by Officer Samantha Wuthrich shortly afterward.
DeLong recalled Delgado pacing, becoming agitated and chucking his tent and belongings around. DeLong said Delgado responded to commands with aggression, and assumed Delgado was on drugs, and was becoming dangerous. DeLong warned he’d shoot Delgado, before eventually firing an AR-15 at him. Wuthrich also fired a 40-millimeter less lethal launcher at Delgado.
Police didn’t approach Delgado until seven minutes after shooting him.
The lawsuit names the city of Portland, DeLong–who fired the shot that killed Robert Delgado–and five other unnamed defendants.
Attorneys for the Delgado family say DeLong should have recognized that Delgado was having a mental health crisis, based on his training. The wrongful death lawsuit notes a long pattern of Portland Police Bureau officers using force against people in mental crisis. The lawsuit cites a 2012 U.S. Department of Justice investigation into PPB’s use of force, that concluded the bureau lacked sufficient training for its officers on de-escalation tactics.
That investigation was prompted by a “high number of officer involved shootings that involved people with mental illness,’” attorneys noted. Over a ten-year span from 2008-2018, 58 percent of the bureau’s officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths involved people with mental health issues, the Oregon Justice Resource Center notes. From 2018-19, nearly 70 percent of shootings involving a PPB officer involved someone in mental crisis or with a history of mental illness.
“Defendant DeLong paid no mind to Mr. Delgado’s apparent signs and symptoms of mental illness and/or impairment, and, without any information that Mr. Delgado had posed a threat to anyone, aggressively approached Mr. Delgado with a rifle, shouting commands and threats. Defendant DeLong then shot Mr. Delgado with his long-barreled rifle without lawful justification from nearly 90 feet away. He had available alternatives. He used none.”
Following the 2021 shooting death, a grand jury failed to indict DeLong on charges stemming from Delgado’s death. He also did not face internal repercussions. DeLong is now a detective with PPB.
Juan Chavez is director of the Civil Rights Project at the Oregon Justice Resource Center, who is representing Skyler Delgado, the son of the deceased. Chavez said the 2021 incident follows a “lengthy history of officers ignoring their training and directives and killing people, only to face no consequences for it.”
Most of the Delgado family lives in Arizona. Delgado's sister, Tina, recalled her brother's impact on her life.
“My brother Robert was my first friend in life. He was my best friend,” Tina Delgado said, speaking of her family’s loss in a news announcement about the lawsuit. “Robert was a funny, charismatic, infectious soul. Not a day goes by that I don't think about him and how I wish I could see his smile one last time, how I miss his laugh. How he made me feel so lighthearted. I miss him every day. There is a piece of my heart broken and shattered with the loss of my brother.”
Skyler Delgado’s lawsuit seeks monetary damages to be determined later.