According to the police timeline, that replica handgun was found in Morgan's hand more than two hours after he first called 911 for help. Morgan became the first person shot dead by a police officer since January 2, 2011, when two officers shot and killed Tom Higginbotham in an abandoned Southeast carwash. And, like every single one of the people shot and killed by Portland officers since at least 2010, he showed signs of having a mental illness.
"Prior to today’s shooting, it had been over a year since a Portland police officer killed a civilian," Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland said in a statement sent out soon just as the police released the new information, suggesting the span was "the longest without a police-caused death in Portland's history." Update: Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch corrects this to note that the longest such span in recent memory stretched from May 15, 2008, to January 29, 2010.
"That this is notable at all," he continued, "highlights a serious problem in the way Portland police interact with citizens, especially those citizens with active mental illness and/or untreated addiction."
Sergeant Pete Simpson, a bureau spokesman, told the Mercury the call would not have triggered a still-in-the-works policy change that aims to send "nonthreatening" suicide calls over to social workers instead of police, because Morgan told dispatchers he had a weapon.
Police say they surged out to check two nearby garages that fit that scenario, the SmartPark garage at SW 10th and Morrison and the SmartPark garage at SW 4th and Morrison—the garage where Morgan eventually was found. But when Morgan saw police, he told dispatchers he didn't want to go with them. Earlier in the call, police say, he answered "possibly" when asked whether he had a gun and used the phrase "suicide by cop."
Less than half hour after Morgan called 911, at 3:40, an officer tried to talk him down from his perch on an "elevated roof"—coming forward only after "cover officers," who would be ready to fire at Morgan if they thought it was necessary, were in place.
Seven minutes after that, officers called Project Respond, the bureau's mobile mental health unit. Four minutes later, the bureau's specially trained crisis negotiators were called in. Both units were expected to arrive within another half-hour, at best. In the meantime, cops cleared nearby streets in case Morgan jumped.
Ten minutes after negotiators were told to show up—at 4:01—police say Morgan was spotted pulling what looked like a black handgun from a pocket and pointing at a sergeant and an officer who'd been trying to talk to him. The two cops then fired at Morgan, who dropped behind the short wall atop the elevator shaft.
His body was found at 5:30, once police decided he wasn't still alive and waiting to shoot at anyone. Portland's version of a SWAT team, the Special Emergency Response Team, had to be called to lead that effort and develop a plan.
Asked about the plan to approach Morgan—in light of the bureau's decision to begin training sergeants, and eventually officers, about a "step back" approach to people with mental illness—Simpson told the Mercury an investigation of the shooting would look into that.
"We don't know what the thought process was that went into things," he said. "That'll be through the investigation."
"They began a dialogue," Simpson added. "They called for crisis negotiators. There's time in there where there's a lot being done to try to avert the outcome that ultimately occurred and ultimately to avert the outcome that he was going to hurt himself."
The police bureau is currently the subject of a federal probe looking into how it uses force against the mentally ill.
An autopsy for Morgan is planned for tomorrow morning, Simpson says. He added that investigators will also be trying to piece together what led Morgan to the top of the garage. He has had run-ins before with police, according to a quick Mercury review.
The Oregonian got to the courthouse in time this afternoon to pull Morgan's files.
He had a prior burglary conviction and had threatened suicide in the past during a domestic and child custody dispute, according to court records..
Earlier this month, Morgan had pleaded guilty to first-degree burglary and sentenced to 36 months of probation. On Jan. 17, he was booked into the Justice Center jail and released, accused of tampering with a witness. He was accused of preventing the mother of his child from calling 9-1-1 on Dec. 16, court records show. She had obtained a restraining order against him
The last bits from the police statement:
The sergeant involved is a 15-year-veteran of the Portland Police Bureau and the officer is a 9-year-veteran, both assigned to Central Precinct. Both officers have been placed on paid leave, as is standard policy.
During the course of the investigation, a bullet was recovered from an office on the 14th floor of a building located at 888 Southwest 5th Avenue and another was located by a citizen in a crosswalk at Southwest 5th and Yamhill.
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