No details about the man who was shot yesterday, other than his approximate age and race, are available at this time. The officer who pulled the trigger has still not been formally interviewed by investigators, but the case will head to a grand jury, as is typical with police use of force cases.
At the police press conference, Sizer and Wheat spelled out the police's account of yesterday's events.
The 911 call sheet for the afternoon shows someone called the police at 3:05 PM complaining that a "drunk transient" was yelling at passerby in the arboretum. The caller described the "transient" as a white man in his 50s, wearing a hoodie and jeans, carrying a plastic bag. They noted that he was "not physically violent."
When Officer Jason Walters responded to the call, the man came out of the bathroom at the arboretum, his face, arms and hands covered in blood, wielding a razor knife with a six-inch handle, according to the police account. The officer was alone and was not carrying a beanbag gun. The police have not confirmed what, if any, words were exchanged between the two. "The officer and the subject began moving out of the bathroom area, with the subject still approaching the officer with the razor knife. At this point, the officer fired shots at the subject," reads the police's official statement. The officer immediately called medical personnel, who arrived and pronounced the man dead.
"The issue is that is was an instant decision, the guy comes after him with a knife," says police union President Scott Westerman. "The use of a Taser would have been ideal if it worked 100 percent of the time. If he shoots the Taser and it does not work, there's the possibility that the officer could lose his life, so he chose to use lethal force."
Chief Rosie Sizer acknowledged the concerns of Portlanders about police shootings in the wake of the Aaron Campbell shooting and mentioned her disappointment with last night's police accountability protest. "We understand that police shootings are always of concern to the community and we are working to get you information in a timely and accurate way," said Sizer. "As a Portland police officer and a Portlander, I support our right to free speech. However I am disappointed in the way those rights were exercised last night."
Police spokeswoman Mary Wheat could not answer many of reporters' questions about the case. The medical examiner's office is still working to ID the victim and has not confirmed whether the blood covering the man's face and hands is his own or that of another, as yet unfound, witness.
Portland Copwatch organizer Dan Handelman said he needed to learn more details about this case, but was initially disturbed to learn that the officer jumped to use of lethal force rather than employing non-lethal options. "This goes back to questions about the Campbell case, the Chasse case. Why are people calling the police when someone might wind up dead? I’d really like to learn more about the circumstances," says Handelman. "The man is bleeding, he’s in emotional distress. It’s hard to know what to make of it now. But there are always other options than using lethal force." Handleman, who tracks police use-of-force on the Copwatch website, was not familiar with Officer Walters and could not recall his name attached to any other use-of-force cases.
Update 12:25 pm I forgot to include that I asked Detective Wheat why the police are releasing information about this case now, rather than at the scene last night. Some people, including protesters at last night's march, felt the time lag was a ploy by police to get their story straight. Wheat responded, "It's very important that we are very thorough. We don't want to relate any information that's incorrect. You have to remember that this just happened at 3 o'clock yesterday. Our process is we meet with the detectives on the scene, then we write up the information to give out." There are still witnesses, and of course the officer, who were at the scene who have not been interviewed.
Also, now seems like a relevant time to direct people to the Portland police use-of-force training I sat in on a couple weeks ago teaching officers "When to Shoot."
Update 12:41 PM And in case you're still keeping track of media coverage of this issue (we had our eye on this morning's headlines) check out the Oregonian's coverage of the press conference:
Update 2:59 PM The medical examiner's office completed their autopsy of the victim and reports the man was shot four times, with two shots to his arms and a lethal shot striking an artery in his hip that caused him to bleed to death. Dr. Karen Gunson said that her impression is that the man was a transient due "his dress and his degree of cleaniliness." But she did not find any signs of drunkenness—there were no alcohol containers at the scene and the man did not smell of alcohol, says Gunson. The toxicology report is still out, though, as is a fingerprint check Dr. Gunson hopes will confirm his identity.
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