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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Investigators Saw Video of Man Being Punched, Tasered—Still Cleared Cops of Misconduct

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, Apr 10, 2013 at 5:17 PM

Surveillance video at the heart of a new $545,000 lawsuit accusing three cops of excessively punching and Tasering a man during a 2011 DUII arrest—despite its jarring and visceral content—was apparently a factor in the Portland Police Bureau's decision to clear the officers of misconduct.

Hours after Willamette Week broke the story about the suit (PDF), filed Tuesday in Multnomah County Circuit Court (which the Oregonian re-reported without giving a sliver of credit), the bureau released its own copy of the video and accompanying police reports and investigative documents that revealed its internal affairs division didn't have a problem with what it was looking at.

Lieutenant Chris Davis, who's since moved on to the bureau's traffic division, wrote to the complainant, Jason Matthew Cox, and said the video showed him struggling with officers as they tried to handcuff him outside the Pallas Club about 10:20 at night, June 18, 2011. The letter also says the cops, Sarah Kerwin, Robert Bruders, and Jeffrey Elias, were afraid of Cox because he had been drinking and was a veteran.

The video the bureau produced is a longer version of the clip shared by Cox's attorneys, Greg and Jason Kafoury, and posted by other outlets today. Supervisors pulled a copy of it almost immediately after the incident, records show.

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The Kafourys, meanwhile, say the video clearly shows Cox and the officers acting relaxed until they tried to handcuff him. Their complaint says the cops, after struggling to bring Cox down, "repeatedly beat him, repeatedly Tased him and then yanked on his left arm and shoulder, all causing injury." The attorneys hadn't seen the internal affairs letter and its description of the video as of this afternoon.

"If you show the video to 12 random people," Jason Kafoury told me (deliberately choosing his words), "they'll think it's egregious and excessive."

The confrontation started when Cox got out of his pickup truck in the lot behind the Pallas Club. Officers wrote in their reports that Cox had sped their and was driving recklessly after leaving nearby bar Papa Sons. The officers wrote in their reports that they thought Cox was poised to fight and claimed Cox said he was a military police officer.

Bruders writes:

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The Kafourys say Cox doesn't have a background in military policing. Or even the military.

Cox, the officers also wrote, was failing his field sobriety tests. Cox was supposed to do a "walk and turn" test and Elias was supposed to show him how it was done. Bruders wrote that Cox nearly tripped and then stood back in a fighting position, which prompted the cops to try arresting him.

The video, however, shows Cox with his arms across his chest, maybe a little wobbly, watching Elias calmly when the Elias and Bruders decided to arrest him—leading to a 17-second struggle to get Cox on the ground and then the punching and Tasering.

The city said Bruders, who did the punching, warned Cox to stop in between strikes. Davis' letter also says Cox had fallen on his arm and that the officers were fighting to free it to cuff him and ensure he didn't have a weapon. Bruders' last punch comes after Kerwin zapped Cox and after he seemed to be well under control.

The complaint says Cox's left shoulder was torn so badly during the encounter that it re-injured an old wound and required medical attention. Cox is suing for $400,000 in noneconomic damages, $25,000 in medical expenses, and $120,000 in lost benefits and income.

Cox, court records show, pleaded guilty in September 2011 to driving under the influence. A blood sample grabbed at 1:47 am the next morning, three hours after the scuffle, came back with a 0.078 reading, just below the legal limit.

And, yes, this comes as the police bureau is in settlement talks with the feds over its use of force, particularly against people experiencing mental illness or perceived to be. The bureau is pushing a new Taser policy that, if in effect during this incident, would not have allowed someone to zap someone on the ground four consecutive times without a much better answer.

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